I Smile Back (2015) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for strong sexual content, substance abuse/disturbing behavior, and language
Running Time: 85 min.
Cast: Sarah Silverman, Josh Charles, Skylar Gaertner, Thomas Sadoski, Shayne Coleman, Mia Barron, Chris Sarandon, Terry Kinney, Oona Laurence
Director: Adam Salky
Screenplay: Paige Dylan, Amy Koppelman (based on her novel)
Review published November 14, 2015
Sarah Silverman (A Million Ways to Die in the West, Wreck-It Ralph) stars as a suburban New Jersey housewife and mother of two, Laney Brooks, whose dedication to her family grows increasingly compromised when she goes off of her medication to treat her depression, then proceeds to drink and take other hard drugs to self-medicate destructively, and even engages in an affair with the husband of one of her friends. Rehab is imminent in order to make things work, but the balance in her mind is not easily achieve, even with her Lithium, as husband Bruce (Charles, The Ex) wants to get his wife back to continue to build a life together, but doubts of her own self worth come back to haunt her time and again.
Adam Salky (Dare) directs the script from the screenwriting team of Paige Dylan and Amy Koppelman, the latter of whom wrote the novel of the same name upon which the film is based, which seeks to put a face on the issues often dealt with by families who have a member who cycles in and out of problems with depression and addiction. As such, it is serious in its intent, and not judgmental in its look at Laney, who comes across as a deeply damaged woman who is suffering from a combination of deep-seated rejection and abandonment issues due to a father that walked out on the family at a young age and has made no attempt to contact her since, her own (perhaps hereditary) clinical depression, and her continuing to substitute her ways to cope with wanting to destroy herself. She doesn't feel worthy of the life she has and love of those around her, so she subconsciously seeks to tear it all down and earn the hurt she feels inside.
Most of the interest in I Smile Back will no doubt come from fans wanting to see a full-on dramatic turn from comedian Sarah Silverman, who teased us with one in her supporting role in the excellent Take This Waltz in 2012. While it isn't an Oscar-worthy turn, it is, nevertheless, a respectable effort on her part, and quite courageous, given how unflattering a character she is playing, and one in which runs an extreme gamut of emotions within the film. She doesn't fully get lost in the role of wife, mother, and addict sufficiently to make us buy that she is indeed Laney Brooks and not just Silverman trying to show she has acting chops, but it's certainly still an impressive attempt that grows increasingly more assured as the film goes along. Perhaps because Silverman has yet to marry or have children of her own could be the reason why her character doesn't feel as "lived in" as it should, but she still makes for a convincing sufferer of depression; Silverman has been quite open and honest about her own real-life battles with clinical depression in her work.
If there is an aspect of the movie that will make it troubling for some viewers, other than its difficult topic and dark-edged themes, it may be due to the familiarity of the material, as the story is a familiar one, especially in the realm of independent features. It also has an ending that some may find challenging, which may frustrate some viewers looking for complete closure to Laney's story, though perhaps that is the point -- depressed addicts may never be able to truly escape their inner demons fully -- they can only hope to continue to keep them at bay. The cycle of damaged families seems to continue from one generation to the next.
©2015 Vince Leo