Silver Linings Playbook – Script Review
So I’ve yet to see this movie, but how can I not know about it right?
Silver Linings Playbook seems to be that Cinderella story at awards shows this year, capturing our love of rooting for the underdog, in more ways than one.
How’s the script though?
Can this screenplay catch this reviewers interest, or will it be awarded the Oscar for “Most Hype?”
Don’t forget you can check out the script here.
1.) Marketability of the Idea
After those two words is an even more important part. It’s based on a novel, so that means there’s already an existing audience for this project.
Not to mention the actual story.
The hero was in a mental institution for beating up his wife’s lover. That fact alone will get me curious as to how he found out and also what his state of mind is now that he’s getting out.
Throw in the love story of another “down on her luck” supporting role, and folks will definitely want to take a look.
2.) Plot Stability
The plot was good. Predictable in a lot of ways, but a nice story.
It starts out with Pat’s mom getting him out of the hospital, and he’s not exactly fixed, but he’s trying to improve himself.
The story revolves around him trying to become worthy enough to win Nikki, his cheating ex-wife, back.
Along the way, he’s introduced to Tiffany, who has her own issues going on since her husband died in a car accident.
The two form an odd sort of bond, and when Tiffany agrees to slip Nikki a note, she’s got Pat’s full attention. (He’s not allowed to contact her due to a restraining order.)
Over the course of the story Tiffany falls for Pat, and Pat begins to stick up and enjoy Tiffany’s company.
All nice. All warm hearted.
The better part that gives this story a unique feel is through the storyline of Pat and his father. His father is OCD, perhaps not diagnosed, and tries to bond with Pat through Philadelphia sports, that he also is betting on, hoping to win enough to open his own restaurant.
The parts I didn’t really like, because they were too predictable, were Tiffany writing the letter, Tiffany and Pat getting the EXACT score they needed at the dance competition, and Pat ultimately choosing Tiffany over his ex-wife who he’s been obsessed with the entire script.
Since most readers/viewers now come to expect twists, to throw them off, we should almost have one or two of those “twists” not be twists at all.
For instance, Pat realizes Tiffany wrote the letter, and it turns out that she did. But what if he thought she wrote it, and that influences him to develop feelings for her and not Nikki? Then by introducing Nikki at the dance competition, he’s presented with what he’s always wanted. Now it’s a real emotional issue for the story (CONFLICT!!!) and leaves us guessing right until the very end. (Since we, like Pat, also assumed Tiffany wrote the letter, but now maybe Nikki isn’t so bad after all.)
Just a thought, but we can’t leave reader interest to chance. Predictable shares too close a line with boring, and that’s very murky water to go wading into.
The other problem was there were a lot of filler scenes where I wasn’t sure what was going on. Some of this had to do with the formatting and scene headings, but I didn’t understand what the point of the scenes were. I guess if I had to venture a guess I’d say it’s to show Pat’s still a bit unstable, but in all fairness this is pretty apparent by how he interacts with the other characters.
Lastly, I liked how Danny kept showing up. He was comedic relief, and after it’s set up initially that he gets out of the hospital pretty easy (but always gets caught later) it leaves you wondering how secure a facility they’re running down in Baltimore.
3.) Quality of Characters
Pat, Tiffany, Pat Sr. and Danny are all well done.
Everyone else? Well, I can’t remember them without looking honestly.
Which brings up a bit of a side note. Two supporting roles were Ronnie and Randy. A few spots they were even in the story together, and it was odd, since I wasn’t sure if the author even had “who is who” right. It was confusing, so remember to avoid using too common or similar sounding character names.
What I liked about Pat was that he obviously wasn’t a stable person, but he was genuinely trying to work on it.
This fact was reflected in the character of Pat Sr. who I mentioned was very OCD. From the way he arranged his remote controls, to the special way he required other characters to sit and watch a football game, none of it was normal.
This worked because Pat Sr. didn’t really think anything was wrong with him. Despite being banned from the Eagles stadium for fighting, he thought he was just as normal as everyone else. He didn’t want to work on himself the way Pat wanted to.
It also works because he’s a good character, sticking up for his son and trying to make things better. So his zany antics worked and made for memorable scenes.
Tiffany and Pat worked also, since they weren’t normal, and came to terms with it.
The things they said, their actions, it made them interesting, and by trying to help each other through things, via the dance competition, they helped each other work towards normality.
Lastly, as I mentioned above, Danny was a funny character with his own funny quirks that spiced scenes up, and broke up what could have been a monotonous script.
Both were pretty bad.
The dialogue had a few gems, but I have to be honest, if I didn’t know this was an Oscar nominated story I wouldn’t give it much of a shot with a professional reader.
There were problems especially when you take both the description and dialogue in unison. The author was a HUGE fan of breaking up dialogue to be finished after something happened.
DOLORES’S CAR SWERVES TOWARD THE LANE AGAIN. A PASSING CAR HONKS AND SWERVES TO AVOID DOLORES’S CAR.
INT. DOLORES’S CAR – DAY
DOLORES REACTS AS PAT GRABS THE STEERING WHEEL.
…-ch the steering…
EXT. STREET – DAY
DOLORES’S CAR MOVES. THE PASSING CAR HONKS AND SWERVES TO
AVOID DOLORES’S CAR.
And stuff like this happens multiple times throughout the script. Not only are the scene headings in the way, but do we need the dialogue broken up this many times and so frequently? I’d argue no, since it led to confusion, and overusing a technique takes away the punch it’s supposed to pack.
Default to that bit of advise I’ve found fits many a situation:
“Use sparingly, and where appropriate.”
A FRAMED PHOTO OF PAT’S BROTHER JAKE ON THE WALL. PAN TO
EMPTY SPACE WHERE ANOTHER FRAME HUNG —
…would even know who he is.
FALLEN FRAMED PHOTO OF PAT, ON THE TABLE BELOW.
What are you doing? No, no, no, no.
Don’t touch them, don’t touch them.
I didn’t even touch ‘em. Why are
you–, don’t blame me.
Who did this? Who took, who took,
who took the…
INT. SOLATANO HOUSE/LIVING ROOM – DAY
PAT SR. LEANS OVER, STRAIGHTENS MULTIPLE REMOTE CONTROLS ON
-the remotes like this? Did you do
No, I don’t touch them. As a matter
of fact, I don’t know why you need
so many. Hey, there she is! Look
There was A LOT going on here.
I think the intent was to establish a sort of shot, coming into Pat’s parents’ house.
The problem is we’re told about a missing picture (and if we’re told about it this picture must be important, right?) but then we go into this argument about touching something between Pat Sr. and Randy.
Personally, I assumed it was the pictures Randy was touching, but turns out to be the remotes. Now this discussion is important because it establishes Pat Sr.’s character “flaws” early on, but what about the picture? I’m still confused what picture was missing from the wall, although I assume it’s Pat and Nikki’s wedding picture.
Breaking up the dialogue only led to more confusion, and even if WE, as authors, know what we’re talking about in our stories, we better make it crystal clear for our readers.
There he is! He’s back!
Welcome back, man.
Yeah, I’m out.
Yeah? You’re out out?
Cool, man. Wow, you lost a lot of
weight. I almost didn’t recognize
Really? There was a lot of this “ho, hum” dialogue that didn’t add anything.
Read this over again, they said “hello” like 3 times.
Part of this was, I think, to establish the uncomfortable feelings Ronnie has about how he should treat Pat, but again, use a bit of subtext. That uncomfortable feeling could easily have been accomplished using a trimmer version of the line that follows this exchange, where Ronnie apologizes for not visiting.
Another example of repetition from page 37:
Isn’t it great?
Yeah, man, I’m, I’m thinking of
redoing it again.
Gotta be making a lot of paper to
Yeah, we’re doing all right, man. I
Isn’t the market down, though?
It is down, but you know, she wants
more, so I’m giving her more, man.
Hey, you know my dad lost his
I’m sorry, man.
A lot of people. My uncle, too.
Yeah, but you know what? No
disrespect, it’s not personal, but
this is the time to strike.
Few things happening here, and folks might argue saying it’s subtext, BUT I didn’t realize this until later, and through other interactions. At the time I read this I didn’t understand what Ronnie and Pat were even talking about. So are scenes like this even needed if I’m getting the info later?
First, Ronnie’s marriage isn’t the best, and two Ronnie’s doing well, while Pat Sr. isn’t and I THINK they work(ed) for the same company.
Again, subtext should be understood without being specific. We, as writers, don’t want to spell it out for our readers, but we MUST have the reader come away knowing what we need them to know for later in the story. If they don’t, we need to redo it.
Hey, Pat, Tiffany!
What a glorious, beautiful
Yeah, yeah. All right, buddy, I’ll
see you. Alright. Wish me luck,
Hey there. Hi there. Ho there.
Unless your script is based on a successful book, don’t write dialogue like this.
There were good parts though.
PAT PACES IN HIS PARENTS BEDROOM.
I just can’t believe Nikki’s
teaching that book to the kids. I
mean the whole time — let me just
break it down for you — the whole
time you’re rooting for this
Hemingway guy to survive the war
and to be with the woman that he
loves, Catherine Barkley…
HIS TIRED PARENTS LOOK AT HIM FROM THE BED.
It’s four o’clock in the morning,
…and he does. He does. He
survives the war, after getting
blown up he survives it, and he
escapes to Switzerland with
Catherine. But now Catherine’s
pregnant. Isn’t that wonderful?
She’s pregnant. And they escape up
into the mountains and they’re
gonna be happy, and they’re gonna
be drinking wine and they dance —
they both like to dance with each
other, there’s scenes of them
dancing, which was boring, but I
liked it, because they were happy.
You think he ends it there? No! He
writes another ending. She dies,
Dad! I mean, the world’s hard
enough as it is, guys. It’s fucking
hard enough as it is. Can’t
somebody say, “Hey, let’s be
positive? Let’s have a good ending
to the story?”
Pat, you owe us an apology.
Mom, for what, I can’t apologize.
I’m not gonna apologize for this.
You know what I will do? I will
apologize on behalf of Ernest
Hemingway, because that’s who’s to
PAT WALKS TO THE DOOR.
Yeah, have Ernest Hemingway call us
and apologize to us, too.
Usually, we’re generally told to avoid monologues, but here it works. Serves as a great way to establish who Pat is with this rant.
He’s mad about how the book turns out, on the surface he says because the world’s got enough bad stuff in it, BUT what he’s NOT saying (SUBTEXT!!!) is that this story is potentially how things could end with Nikki. He wants the happy ending with her, but Hemingway presents an alternate possibility.
The first night that Pat and I met
at my sister’s, the Eagles beat the
Forty Niners handily, forty to
twenty-six. The second time we got
together we went for a run and the
Phillies beat the Dodgers seven to
five in the NLCS.
She’s right, Dad.
The next time we went for a run the
Eagles beat the Falcons, twentyseven
The third time we got together we
had Raisin Bran in the diner and
the Phillies dominated Tampa Bay in
the fourth game of the World
Series, ten to two.
Let me think about that. Wait a
Well, why don’t you think about
when the Eagles beat the Seahawks,
fourteen to seven.
He was with you?
He was with me. We went for a run.
Really? That’s crazy.
There have been no games since Pat
and I have been rehearsing every
day and if Pat had been with me
like he was supposed to, he
wouldn’t have gotten in a fight, he
wouldn’t be in trouble, maybe the
Eagles beat the New York Giants.
She’s making a lot of sense, Pop.
That’s all right on all counts.
Does anybody here happen to know
what the official motto of the
state of New York is on the
official seal of the State of New
York? Huh? Anybody? (to Pat Sr.) Do
you? Do you know? “Excelsior.” Look
it up. Yeah, “Excelsior.”
Not that I give a fuck about
football or about your
superstitions, but if it’s me
reading the signs, I don’t send the
Eagles guy whose personal motto is
“Excelsior,” to a fucking Giants
game, especially when he’s already
in a legal situation.
Wow. How did you know all that
I did my research.
Tiffany doesn’t like sports. Pat wants to be a good luck charm for his dad.
Tiffany knows this, but also likes spending time with Pat. She does her homework on things she doesn’t like and finds that getting what she wants actually helps Pat Sr.
She doesn’t come right out and say, “I want to hang out with Pat.” She implies that spending time with her will be in Pat Sr.’s best interests, which secretly gets her what she wants. (More SUBTEXT!!!)
Don’t read this script if you need to learn proper formatting.
What was wrong:
A.) Description was all in caps.
B.) Scene headings were all over the place and confusion.
C.) Description also told us how characters were supposed to enter using “r” and “l.”
D.) Camera angles and views in description sometimes happened line after line.
E.) Page length was 161 pages.
Again, all these mistakes are FORGIVEN when you’ve got a built in audience from a novel backing you, but most of us can’t make these “rookie” mistakes.
I can’t stress this enough, make what we’re looking at, and even how we’re looking at it, as GENERAL and CLEAR as possible unless there’s some element that’s absolutely crucial to the plot of the story. If it’s crucial make it distinct.
Honestly? “Don’t give up.”
I’m not talking about the moral of the story, although that’s there too, but don’t give up on your script.
Even coming from a book, it took HUGE vision to read this script and say, “This will be one of the most successful movies of 2012.”
So we shouldn’t give up on our stories. If we believe enough in it and ourselves, sooner or later someone else will see the potential. It just takes getting knocked down enough times before someone finally helps us up and dusts us off.
This isn’t to say we shouldn’t try to make the story the best we can make it, just that we’ve got to keep letting the world know about it.
(For some reason I thought of a certain script over at Amazon Studios with the initials FP, and a certain author who “toots” that script’s horn every chance he gets. Maybe it just takes the right producer to see that story’s potential.)
This script would also make for an interesting test of Hollywood Hypocrisy. Give it to a reader with zero knowledge about the script, let them read it, and see what they say. Nine of ten wouldn’t go past the first few pages, I’d argue, without saving, “Pass.” Then tell them it’s based on a novel and see how fast they move it up the food chain.
Crazy, I know, but that’s what we’re up against. Crappy existing franchises will always beat out great unknown stories because, crappy as they are, the audience is somewhat quantifiable and studios can have a decent idea of it will make money or not, regardless of the end product.
Sorry abut that tangent, and back to the point. Don’t give up on your story.
7.) What, if anything, should we avoid emulating?
The filler dialogue.
As I said, there was a lot of back and forth that felt like saying the same thing over and over and over. Or as I read dialogue, I wanted to scream, “I DON’T CARE!”
With a script already up there in page length, we need to trim the fat anyway we can, and I think a lot of that fat could have come from redundant dialogue used in unnecessary scenes.
Rating: Read this if you’re too lazy to read the novel.