Two time Emmy winner Sarah Silverman (The Sarah Silverman Program), in the film “I Smile Back,” portrays the self-destructive, Laney Brooks. The reason for her reckless behavior is ambiguous throughout most of the film. Laney is addicted to alcohol and drugs, which is shown to the viewer early on in the movie, when she gets up from having a pleasant dinner with her family to pour herself a large glass of vodka, and go and snort cocaine in the bathroom. Furthermore, she is an adulteress who sleeps with her friend’s husband (Thomas Sadoski), and if all that weren’t bad enough, Laney suffers from severe depression, even though she seemingly has it all. She is married to a loving husband, Bruce, played by Golden Globe nominee, Josh Charles (The Good Wife). He is a successful insurance executive, who has given her a nice home to live in, and a new SUV to drive, but more importantly, he is a devoted father to their two young children, Eli (Skyler Gaertner) and Janey (Shayne Coleman).
The problem with the film is that while Silverman completely embodies her role, for every scene where she demonstrates her talent for drama, there are a number of other scenes that aren’t in the least bit compelling. There are parts of the film which seem to exist to do nothing more than to fill time, instead of helping to advance the narrative, or further the momentum of the few well executed scenes that are interspersed throughout the duration of the movie.
For example, after a series of incidents, one of which involves Laney doing something very inappropriate with her daughter’s teddy bear as the child sleeps in the bed next to her, Bruce drives Laney to rehab. There she will spend the next thirty days working with a therapist to determine the reasoning behind her detrimental behavior. The scenes during this part of the film move along at a brisk pace, and with the exception of one semi-meaningful conversation with Terry Kinney’s (OZ) character, Dr. Page, the cause of Laney’s problems remain, for the most part, vague. The only true progress she demonstrates during her time there, is when Bruce comes up to visit her, and she wants to confess the affair she had, but he does not permit her to speak the words and so, while perhaps knowing what Laney was going to tell him, he would rather stay in denial.
After returning from rehab, Laney attempts to remain clean and sober, focusing on being a good wife and mother to Josh and the children. Her love for her children is never in question during the film. In fact, the viewer will come to learn that her fear of losing them or, for that matter, anyone whom she loves is part of her problem, which leads to her need to numb herself from reality. In addition to staying clean, Laney is trying to work through her emotional pain, which stems from an incident from her past.
What is the source of pain from Laney’s past which causes her to act in such a harmful way? Is it an incident that transpired during her childhood that she has not been able to move past because she has never been given the opportunity for closure? Is it a person? Will she be able to pull herself together not only for her own well being, but so that she can hold onto the family that she is so desperately afraid of losing?
Directed by Adam Salky (Dare), the film was co-written for the screen by Amy Koppelman and Paige Dylan, and was based on Koppelman’s novel of the same name which was published by Two Dollar Radio on December 1, 2008. The movie, which has a runtime of 85 minutes, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 2015. With the exception of Silverman’s performance, the film is, for the most part, forgettable. She proves beyond any doubt that she does not have to be limited to comedic roles, but as stated earlier in the review, this overall predictable drama, which concerns itself with the subjects of addiction and depression, leaves a good deal to be desired.