I Smile Back is a dark drama starring Sarah Silverman in an absolutely brilliant performance as a depressed and mentally ill wife and mother. Josh Charles stars as her husband.
If you’ve been a fan of Sarah Silverman as a comedienne, you are going to be surprised and impressed by her performance in this film. She’s absolutely believable and true in this dramatic and troubling tale.
Silverman’s character, Laney, tries to be a good wife and mother. Her husband Bruce loves her. Her kids love her.
She’s depressed. She’s not taking the lithium she’s supposed to take. Instead she’s drinking too much, snorting coke, taking whatever pills, and spending her afternoons in bed with Donny (Thomas Sadoski).
After a spectacular meltdown in her own bedroom, she goes to rehab. While she’s there talking with Dr. Page (Terry Kinney) we learn of her daddy issues. Her father abandoned her and her mother when she was nine. In addition to her abandonment issues, she scared of loving anything, which is just another fear of abandonment.
She tries to talk to her husband. Repeatedly. He won’t listen. He changes the subject or leaves the room.
One of her coping mechanisms, one she uses right before she becomes slightly unhinged, is sucking on a small lollypop. A lollypop like a 9 year old might be given at a bank. She keeps a supply in her purse.
After she gets out of rehab she and Bruce go to an insurance conference – Bruce sells insurance. While Bruce is in meetings, she goes to see her father (Chris Sarandon). He hasn’t called her or tried to contact her in 30 years. He now has another daughter who is about 9 years old. She learns that her grandmother was an alcoholic.
Laney steals the father figure from her half-sister’s dollhouse. Then she gets in the back of a cab to leave. Silverman goes through a masterful portrayal of pain and fear and anger in the back of that cab as she tries to get control of her emotions.
When Laney’s son Eli (Skylar Gaertner) stars showing obsessive behaviors and tics, she blames herself and her DNA. Her shame is enormous.
Laney does all the self-destructive things you would expect. It isn’t fun to watch. You’re rooting for her to do better, and she wants to, but it isn’t something she can entirely control.
I’d like to say I Smile Back had a happy ending, but it doesn’t. There’s always hope where mental health is concerned, but for this family happiness is going to be a struggle. And right now, at this moment in her life, Laney’s struggle is overwhelming.
If you have triggers around mental health or sexual assault, this film might not be a good choice for you.
I Smile Back was written by Paige Dylan and Amy Koppelman and directed by Adam Salky. The film was released in 2015. I watched it on Amazon Video, but it’s probably available from other streaming services as well.