I’ll Take My Fiction With A Side Of Truth, Please


Early on in the movie The Silver Linings Playbook, the protagonist Pat (Bradley Cooper) is reading A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway. Frustrated by the book’s tragic ending, and fueled by a manic episode (he’s manic-depressive and just out of the hospital) he throws the book out a window, awakens his parents and goes on a rant about how horrible Hemingway was to cheat his characters out of a happy ending.

Can there be any doubt what kind of ending awaits the audience for The Silver Linings Playbook?

This movie has been touted as a strong Oscar contender, but I found it a typical romcom, with typical romcom cliches. Yes, it takes a stab at a serious topic (the protagonist’s aforementioned mental illness) but except for some scenes about that topic early in the film that felt somewhat honest, the movie quickly devolves into a mass of Hollywood romantic plot points that don’t ring true.

For one thing, the central romantic relationship: Pat is introduced to Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a troubled widow who has been dealing with her grief by sleeping with everyone in sight, male or female–by her sister.

Now, I ask you–what person is going to match her sister with a guy who just got released from a mental hospital?  Especially when the sister has her own emotional problems to deal with?

Oh, did I mention that Pat landed in the hospital because he caught his wife having sex with another man?

So here we have a situation where a woman (later on, we find out Pat’s parents are in on the plan to get these two kids together) is trying to get her sister with a guy who reacted violently when he found his wife with another man. And the sister still reacts to stressful situations by hitting on men.

I just don’t find that believable. The parents, maybe–because some may erroneously believe that getting their son another girl will get him to stop obsessing about his ex. But even so, they also should have been concerned about Tiffany’s reputation, considering their son’s history with his wife.

The movie also has a subplot where Pat’s father (Robert DeNiro) is running a bookie operation and in danger of losing all his savings because of it. Not only does nobody in the family do much to dissuade him from gambling, they even participate in a double-or-nothing bet by including a “parlay”–a second bet where Pat and Tiffany have to score a certain amount in a dance contest.

Oh, yes, there’s also a dance contest. Did I fail to mention that? It exists in the story, I suspect, because there would be no third act without it.

Cooper and Lawrence are very winning and attractive actors, so I can understand an audience wanting to be on their side. And I have no objection to happy endings, if they feel earned and believable. But by taking on a real and serious issue such as manic-depression, the movie only highlights the dishonesty of the story. Gambling won’t resolve your economic woes; more likely it will make them worse. Love can’t resolve a serious mental illness or emotional problem, and yet that’s the implication at the end.

Fantasy is fine, but there’s something to be said for including some truth along with it.

Ironically, I had just seen Woody Allen‘s movie Midnight In Paris, where the protagonist Gil (Owen Wilson) travels back in time to the 1920s and meets famous writers of the time, such as Ernest Hemingway, who offended Pat so much in The Silver Linings Playbook.

Hemingway gives a speech in Midnight In Paris about how important honesty and truth are to a story.

I think a lot of Midnight In Paris is truthful, especially the main theme of how some people tend to idealize other eras because they are never satisfied with life as it is now.

And yet, the movie still slaps on a happy ending, where Gil meets the perfect girl and they walk off together in the rain. To Allen’s credit, whether or not it will work out is left as an open question. But I do compare it to endings of movies like Annie Hall (where he makes a joke about it by having the protagonist write a play with a happy ending) or Manhattan.

Those might have not been such popular endings with the romcom audience. But they were truthful in the context of those particular stories, and are far better movies because of it.

I think as writers, we shouldn’t be so quick to throw truth out the window to placate our audience. I believe they can handle the truth. I wish the creators of The Silver Linings Playbook had believed that, too.

7 thoughts on “I’ll Take My Fiction With A Side Of Truth, Please

  1. Hey Debbie! This is Satsuma from Victor’s Village; well, er, that makes me sound like I run the place, obviously I’m just a humble guest blogger there. Anyway, thanks for your take on Silver Linings Playbook, as well as your courage in even daring to say you didn’t like it, considering how the party line in THG fandom is to praise it to the skies. I agree that in real life, love does not cure mental illness, and gambling usually does not make you rich.

    It’s somewhat ironic that this movie was marketed from the start as an Oscar shoo-in, yet some of its premises are much less realistic than The Hunger Games (in terms of psychological realism), which was basically written off as a shallow pop culture flick. Maybe that won’t be the case for the sequels, though, especially by the time the last MJ movies come around. Because I think the ending Katniss gets at the end of MJ, does balance some degree of happiness and peace, with the honestly of showing that she still has lasting scars, both physical and psychological, that she must live with after everything she’s gone through.

    1. Hi, Satsuma, thanks so much for visiting my blog!

      One of the things I love the most about MJ is the way Collins refused to give us a standard fairy tale ending. I believe if you’re going to take on tough subjects, like war or mental illness, then you shouldn’t paste on a happy ending just to placate your readers or audience. The whole point of THG (and the Harry Potter series) is that there is a very harsh price even when fighting a just war. I know a lot of people have a problem with that, but IMO they would not be as good if the authors had given into what fans wanted over what was right for the story.

      One good thing about seeing SLP – my mom, who hasn’t seen THG and also didn’t like SLP, commented as we left the theater that Jennifer is one of the most amazing actresses she’s ever seen! Which she is, of course. 🙂

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