By John Esther | October 24, 2015
Director: Adam Salky
Writer: Paige Dylan, Amy Koppelman
Starring: Josh Charles, Skylar Gaertner, Shayne Coleman, Sarah Silverman, Nick Taylor, Mia Barron, Thomas Sadoski, Sean Reda, Cynthia Darlow, Kristin Griffith, Terry Kinney, Clark Jackson, Brian Koppelman, Emma Ishta, Oona Laurence, Chris Sarandon
Featuring Sarah Silverman in what may be the best performance in any American film this year, I Smile Back offers a tragic look into a woman who can no longer take the artifice of her milieu.
Laney (Silverman) seems to have it all: a very nice home; a loving, handsome husband who has just published a book named Bruce (an excellent Josh Charles); two healthy, adorable children (Shayne Colman and Skylar Gaertner) and all the leisure time she can handle.
Yet she is not happy. Everyone around her is bogus in some way, falsifying her or his (mostly his) testimony everywhere Laney looks. Trapped in such existential horror, what is a bourgeois women to do other than consume copious amounts of cocaine and alcohol? Oh, and have an affair with a close friend, Donny (Thomas Sadoski), who is one fraudulent mother pumper. Has Laney never heard of going shopping in order to fill the void?
Eventually, Laney’s self-abuse gets out of control and she heads to a fancy rehab center, which proves to be successful. However, once she is back in her society, the depression of knowing just how phony people can (must?) be — other than her loyal, supportive husband — breeds the need to cope with dope.
A brutally honest film offering no cozy conclusions, co-writers Amy Koppleman and Paige Dylan and director Adam Salky’s I Smile Back makes the somewhat similar protagonist (Jennifer Aniston) in writer Patrick Tobin and director Daniel Barnz’s Cake sweet in comparison. Intoxicated, intelligent and often ignoble, Laney’s dread can only be cushioned by her painkilling behavior. Yet, the paradox (or dichotomy) is that she is only making her life worse, more painful, by trying to run away from the pain. On top of that, the more horrible she becomes, the better the person others seem to be. So why change, sober up or care? No exit for Laney.
Holding the film together is Silverman’s tour-de-force performance. Involved in every scene, her “serious” acting holds the film together. Although Laney can be quite funny at times, this is not your typical Silverman.
Kudos to the casting department for choosing the comedian, the weight of the film would have collapsed under a lesser performance. Nonetheless, I would be surprised if various award committees feel the same way. And I sincerely doubt AMPAS will appreciate it; it may be too close to home for some of its members.