Imagine “Desperate Housewives” without the soap opera storylines or “The Real Housewives of Anytown U.S.A.” with an unhealthy dose of self-destruction. “I Smile Back” is a portrait of a woman in crisis that spares no details in its depiction of despair.
Comedian Sarah Silverman is Laney, a suburban mom with a loving husband (Josh Charles), two kids, Eli (Skylar Gaertner) and Janey (Shayne Coleman), a hidden, but crippling drug and alcohol habit and sex addiction. It’s a seemingly perfect upper-middle-class life marred by behaviour she can’t get under control. After a bender that sees her find new and disturbing uses for her daughter’s teddy bear she agrees to a thirty-day stay in rehab. Question is, will thirty-days be enough time for Laney to explore the gaping hole in her life and come to grip’s with whatever it is that causes her to self destruct?
My question is, Can 85 minutes be enough time to get to get under the skin of this troubled woman enough to care about her plight? Silverman and director Adam Salky aren’t prides, they give the viewer an up-close-and-personal look at Laney’s problems, but little time is spent actually addressing her depression. Instead the film spotlights her bad decisions and self medication. It’s startling stuff and will certainly spark conversation but near the end of the scant running time it’s hard tio understand exactly what the movie is trying to say.
Silverman is getting lots of notice and it’s not hard to see why. Her take on Laney is as emotionally raw a performance as we’re likely to see this year on the big screen. Like Miley Cyrus stripping it down to make us forget all about Hannah Montana “I Smile Back” should mark the beginning of a new phase in Silverman’s career.
“I Smile Back” is not a movie you enjoy. It’s a film you can admire for its bare and brave central performance but words like “enjoy” don’t apply.