I Smile Back – Review by Liz Casanova

I Smile Back 

By Liz Casanova

Starring Sarah Silverman, Josh Charles, Skylar Gaertner and Shayne Coleman

Written by Paige Dylan and Amy Koppelman

Directed by Adam Salky

Running time 85 min

MPAA rating R

Selig Film Rating Full Price

It is difficult to understand a woman who, on the surface, has it all but is unable to contain happiness. I Smile Back does not really succeed in fully finding the lost woman that is Laney Brooks (Sarah Silverman), but that's the beauty of the film. Laney and her actions are a mystery, and the audience is forced to take this painful journey with her.

It is clear that Laney has the perfect husband, the perfect loving kids and a life most modern American women would die for. She wants for nothing. But yet, deep within her soul there is a darkness that consumes. It is a monster that she cannot get rid of. Instead, she numbs it with drugs and extramarital affairs. That makes her feel good for about a second, and then she is thrust right back in the world of "good mom", "good wife."

Her stage is a picturesque Middle American town. Her husband Bruce (Josh Charles) is the Prince Charming seen in fairy books. Her kids Eli (Skylar Gaertner) and Janey (Shayne Coleman) are the most loving kids. Laney is cocooned by love, but that does not motivate her to mend her ways. Instead, the more love that is given to her, the more need for self-destruction grows. Then after a night of a bad hit of cocaine, she goes into rehab as a final attempt to save herself and her family. She is forced to face her demons.

Silverman proves to be an actress with incredible range. Instead of approaching this part as loud, brash and overdramatic, her emotions are kept just underneath the surface, creating moments of intense quiet tension. She's so in it and committed that the respect for her craft cannot be ignored. In fact, her subtle transition from "nice mom" to "fallen lady" should make her an Oscar contender. Charles is also a notable talent. Instead of being the one-dimensional puppet husband, he is a good man with depth. He is Silverman's multifaceted foil and makes their onscreen relationship tragic to watch.

I Smile Back is masterpiece of a film. It could have easily been self-indulgent and self-righteous. But instead, it takes the difficult road. It is painfully uncomfortable. The reality is there are many women who suffer deep depression and other mental disorders and go untreated. Their stories are far from pretty and usually don't have happy endings. This film is an icebreaker for further discussion. It's sure to be the most underrated film of 2015, but it is certainly one of the best.

  • Charles M

    Well-written review!