The New Jersey Oscar Contender that Could Have Been…by N.J Holden


Always on top of his game, our featured writer N.J Holden (@exiledinNJ) uncovers something you may not have known about Silver Linings Playbook.

When Matthew Quick’s debut novel Silver Linings Playbook was published in 2008, I’m sure few envisioned the multi-nominated film that would follow it in 2012. With a dynamite cast (Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro) and a proven director (David O. Russell), it should have been a celebration of the Garden State since the book takes place there. But the film, like so many adaptations, deviated from the source material, most notably moving the characters and plot from New Jersey to Philadelphia. While audiences and the folks at the Academy Awards have applauded and nominated the film for five Oscars (including Best Picture of the Year), I think we should look at the book, a celebration of family, football, mental illness, and New Jersey.

Pat Peoples is a former history teacher who returns from an extended stay at a Baltimore mental hospital to his childhood home in Collingswood, New Jersey. With his wife, job, and home all gone, Pat is a broken man who believes in “silver linings”, or a series of positive beliefs that he holds true to in hopes of winning back his old life. Following a strenuous exercise regiment and reading his wife’s school reading list, Pat tries to rebuild his life while under the care of his emotionally drained mother and emotionally distant, Philadelphia Eagles-obsessed father. In addition, Pat forms an odd relationship with Tiffany, a disturbed person in her own right who blackmails Pat into a dance competition with the hopes of reuniting him with his wife. Pat must also endure his precarious mental state which is always on the verge of snapping, especially by that wicked musician who haunts doctor and dental offices all over…Kenny G! The novel alternates between drama and comedy, with Pat’s humorous attempts at adjusting to life outside the hospital and his dark, growing obsession with finding out why he lost it all, something that he blocked from his mind. 
While the movie dealt with all of these issues in a more lighthearted, comedic way, Quick kept the focus on Pat and his quest for the happy ending that eluded him. In addition, the setting would make any native to NJ happy and proud, with its beautiful descriptions of towns and places that people south of Exit 130 on the GSP would recall. The book stays true to the spirit of the Garden State, embracing its quirkiness and tough attitude and love of food. Some have criticized the handling of mental illness; with Pat and Tiffany’s relationship being contrived since both of them are the only ones capable of understanding one another since they are disturbed. But the relationship is only a little bit of the novel, with a majority of it focused on Pat and his journey to a better life, however ludicrous or unrealistic it may seem. So before that day in February when we get to see who will take home a gold statue, be sure to give this book a read and remember that it could have been a celebrated New Jersey film…only if.

– N.J Holden