I Smile Back (2015)

I Smile Back (2015)
  • Time: 85 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Adam Salky
  • Cast: Sarah Silverman, Josh Charles, Thomas Sadoski


Laney Brooks does bad things. Married with kids, she takes the drugs she wants, sleeps with the men she wants, disappears when she wants. Now, with the destruction of her family looming, and temptation everywhere, Laney makes one last desperate attempt at redemption.

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  • “I need to remember how to be a good wife and a good mother and a real person,” resolves Laney Brooks (Sarah Silverman) in the unrelentingly tedious drama, I Smile Back.

    At first glance, Laney would seem to be a good wife to husband Bruce (Josh Charles), a successful insurance salesman and self-help author, and a doting mother to her two young children, whose nightmares she soothes and whose lunches she packs with care. Yet look closer and the cracks beneath the functioning facade are becoming visible. There is something eating away at Laney and she dulls her pain with cocaine, alcohol, amphetamines, and regular afternoon trysts with Donny (Thomas Sadoski), a married restaurateur and close family friend.

    There is initial intrigue in Laney’s unravelling. She is clearly a loving mother to her kids, but oblivious to mundane and important matters like remembering to bring the parent ID required by the school as part of their new security measures. When she leaves Donny to pick up her kids and misses the highway exit, one is unsure if she will keep driving past the next exit. She’s immune to her husband’s sexual advances, and is more interested in convincing him to get rid of the dog he brought home for the kids. Laney doesn’t want them to get too attached to something they will love but inevitably lose. “Why bother loving anything?” Bruce says, to which Lacey counters that the solution would be to not get married, have kids, and pretend that everything is fine when it is not.

    Alarm bells would have rung within any husband worth his salt, but Bruce manages to sleep after this exchange. In fact, Bruce’s complacency and willful ignorance of his wife’s deterioration may be part of its existence. What he cannot ignore, however, is Laney’s strangled cry for help as she crawls back to their bedroom after having imbibed copious amounts of wine, snorted cocaine, and masturbated with her daughter’s teddy bear as her child lay sleeping mere inches away. The latter is only one of the many degradations that serve to shake Laney out of the depths of her downward spiral.

    Adapted from Amy Koppelman’s novel by Koppelman and Paige Dylan, I Smile Back spends most of its focus on Laney’s recovery, particularly her struggles to be the perfect wife and mother. Relapse threatens at every corner. An awkward encounter with her ex-lover Donny and his newly pregnant wife has Laney forcing a smile on her face. Later, her bitterness and disgust are all but palpable when Donny toasts his wife with a loving tribute. A visit with her estranged father (Chris Sarandon) nearly tips her over the edge as she marvels at how committed he is to being a father to his current daughter when he so easily left Laney and her mother all those years ago. Also fraying her nerves is the concern that her children may have inherited her “bad genes.”

    The story, far from perfect and rife with familiar insights, is considerably impeded by Adam Salky’s rote and uninspired direction. Thankfully, the film’s innumerable faults do not severely compromise Silverman’s highly commendable portrayal. There are transitions from the devastated to the determinedly self-destructive that are sublimely done, but the most impressive aspect of Silverman’s performance is its refusal to court the audience’s sympathy.

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