“I Smile Back” (2015)
Running Time: 95 minutes
Directed by: Adam Salky
Written by: Amy Koppelman & Paige Dylan
Featuring: Sarah Silverman, Josh Charles, Thomas Sadoski and Chris Sarandon
Laney: “Nobody tells you that it’s terrifying to love something so much.”
“I Smile Back” (2015) is firmly based around the character of Laney played by Sarah Silverman who offers a singular performance that will definitely stay with you long after the film has ended. I initially viewed this film in 2015 when it was going through the festivals, it met with some success through that awards season, with Silverman being nominated for a SAG award. This role is a once in a lifetime opportunity for any actress, there are so few great parts for women in film, that this one stands out, it is fantastic that Silverman whose comedy has always been socially aggressive as well as cutting edge gets this chance to make her mark in a role that should be remembered for a very long time.
Outwardly, Laney (Sarah Silverman) appears to have the perfect suburban life. She has two loving children, a caring husband (Josh Charles), and an opulent, upper-middle-class home. Beneath her seemingly pristine image lie anxiety, depression, unresolved childhood issues, and destructive behavior, which jeopardize everything she holds dear.
The source material for “I Smile Back” is a book authored by the screenwriter, Amy Koppelman, who has taken her words with assistance from Paige Dylan, has constructed as well as deconstructed a narrative that works absolutely perfectly for director Adam Salky, whose previous big screen effort was the drama “Dare” (2009). This film could be characterised as a ‘womens’ film but that would be unfair to everyone involved in this film. So little has been done for women i film as well as about women reflected in life that this should be a must see for anyone that has women in their lives.
The central performance of Laney is portrayed by (most known for) stand up Sarah Silverman who over the past few years has made forays into light comedies as well as dramas for directors that have seen the potential in her work. In fact if you have ever seen her stand up or read her book “The Bedwetter” (2010) you will recognize someone who struggles with her early life while embracing her foibles in her work. I imagine that this was a difficult casting choice for some, but the entire film is rewarded by her real performance of a suburbanite in crisis – mostly a record in self abuse that destroys everything and possibly eveyone she touches.
The film is a unique way of looking at not only depression, but the way in which a victim of depression handles themselves, the possible addiction that comes with a sickness, where origins of mental disorders and even if they are disorders originate from. What is it like in the eye of the storm where everything is amplified so much that one wonders if there is a way out. In the immortal lyrics of Talking Heads – “Is this my beautiful life? How did I get here?”
Laney, is someone on the outside that seems to have it all, a devoted, understanding husband, beautiful children, a huge house in the suburbs and more than enough money to not have to worry about much. However, trauma, any trauma never really stays buried, the more you have the more memories can eat away at you, this goes more so when you have nothing but free time in your life. Laney who does drugs, sleeps around and borderline becomes manic about the perfection of her children is not the most likeable of characters, but the more you delve into her life the more you realize something is wrong in this perfect existence – what that is Laney and the audience really do not know – and like many people that struggle with existence may never really find out.
“I Smile Back” moves along at a brisk pace which is a little different to what this film could have been, in fact the episodic nature of the film works for me as it shows Laney moving from one horrible act to another – as well as maybe trying to get help. When you are at the center of addiction, turmoil as well as grief that is all you have – decision after decision, and they are normally self-destructive. While in real life there are ‘down’ times and breaks in life, this film shows in a short amount of time the break down of a person – but never questions her motives – because she has none. Laney is not about guilt, trust or love she is about trying to feel something, anything to move on from this life she feels she has inherited – of course she has no idea who from.
As with many independent movies this does not offer any real solutions, it has an ending that some may see as a failure, it might actually be happy if Laney finds something she has been looking for most of her life. This film is not for the weak of heart or for people looking for closure – in case you have not worked it out life is not full of happy endings – maybe that’s something Laney has recognized and is dealing with.
Released on DVD 5th April 2017.