I Smile Back

     Comedian turned dramatic actress apparently; with Sarah Silverman (Ashby, School of Rock) there is always a bit of unpredictability. What you can expect from the former girlfriend of Jimmy Kimmel, is a healthy dose of vulgarity. Director Adam Salky seems unsatisfied to simply present this character as mentally disturbed and drug addicted, he and Silverman take it farther and darker. The only real value from I Smile Back is to see Silverman completely deliver herself in this unrestrained performance, it’s easily her best work to date. However, it’s also the single most depressing film of 2015, and being a true indie, has no interest in bringing anything lighthearted to the table.

     On the surface Laney Brooks (Silverman) looks like a typical mother dropping her kids off at school. After a teacher refuses to let her walk the kids to class, because she forgot to bring her “parental id badge”, and after the parking lot attendent won’t let her park on the sidewalk, Laney returns to her daytime routine of snorting coke, cheating on her husband (Charles) with their friend (Sadoski) and drinking herself almost to the point where she forgets to pick up the children after school. After a near deadly mixture of drugs and alcohol, Laney is forced into rehab, where she faces many of her demons, preparing to get her life back together.

I Smile Back functions more as an acting vehicle for Silverman, than a full-fledged mental disorder drama.

     It’s almost jolting to see an actress take such a leap into new territory. Previously this year, Silverman flirted with a dramatic motherhood role in Ashby, but here she is all in. Stripped bare (literally in one scene) of her comedic talents, Silverman within minutes of being on screen, assures curious viewers that she is very serious. I would go as far as to say that Silverman gives one of the top 20 best lead female performances of the year. Laney Brooks represents a somewhat new 20th Century cultural mother, or the “friend mom”. She is loving to her son and daughter, but nothing in her character represents a parental unit, or someone who inspires growth or education.

     “I don’t see why anybody bothers loving anything,” she says to her husband. I Smile Back is filled with scenes where Laney acts irrational, and it’s painful for the audience to watch. Perhaps the film’s most shocking moment (and there are many), is when Laney inappropriately uses her daughter’s teddy bear, while lying in the floor of her daughter’s bed. The script seems to heap all of this characters problems (and the early signs the son might exhibit the same) on a mental imbalance. No one, including Laney herself, seems to know the way back to normal. I Smile Back functions more as an acting vehicle for Silverman, than a full-fledged mental disorder drama.

Final Thought

While the films is a bit too thin on development, Silverman’s performance makes it worth watching.


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