I SMILE BACK – REVIEW
I SMILE BACK – REVIEW – Sarah Silverman’s serious dramatic portrayal of a woman struggling with depression and substance abuse.
‘What do you want to talk about first? The Daddy issues or the substance abuse?’ Laney (Silverman) asks a shrink about halfway through Adam Salky’s I Smile Back, an adaptation of the novel by Amy Koppelman. Her awareness that her own woes tread an all too familiar path unfortunately doesn’t stop the film from treading exactly that path. Laney is a well off house wife with two young kids, a liking of cocaine and booze, a problem with depression and a husband who’s so insufferably pleased with himself – an insurance salesman, he’s writing the Bible for the Here and Now – he’d make Mrs Walton self-harm. In fact, this is one of the problems with the film. It can’t really decide whether Laney’s issues are due to genetics, substance or environment and so gives her a dose of all three. But in the film’s defence that might well be the case inm actual fact. And the filmmakers are brave in their decision to make Laney at once pitiable and at times horrible. She cheats on her husband, she drunk dials a parent of one of her kids’ classmates to harangue her about bullshit.
And yet the film is curiously restrained. Sarah Silverman goes deep and dark in her portrayal, but the film itself never quite loses the decorum of its pristine set decoration. This is an Eyes Wide Shut world of upper middle class ease, where bothersome traffic monitors and other men’s trophy wives are about as gritty as it gets. As Laney crashes through several bottoms – including a horrific encounter with the working class – the film never quite lets loose and the result is something as depressing but as confused as its subject. A brave attempt to be sure, and Silverman proves herself an actress of considerable talent, but this has not got the inarticulate rage of Woman Under the Influence. The one strand of the story which is full of potential pathos – the dawning realization that her young son might also have a genetic predisposition to mental illness – is raised only to picked at but left dangling.