Thursday, October 22, 2015

Movie with Abe: I Smile Back

I Smile Back
Directed by Adam Salky
Released October 23, 2015

Comedians getting serious is often momentous enough in itself that little else is required to pique audience interest in a film. Sarah Silverman is an actress and writer well-known for her wit and comedic nature. Recently, she has forayed slightly into more dramatic territory with a recurring arc on “Masters of Sex,” but almost anyone would first associate her with her comedy background. In “I Smile Back,” she expands on a role that she tried in “Take This Waltz,” starring as Laney, a mother of two whose daily life and ability to function is severely hindered by her very serious and uncontrollable drug addiction.

Red flags are raised early in “I Smile Back,” as Laney’s husband Bruce (Josh Charles) talks to his children about the merits of a good meal before running outside to play basketball with them while Laney sits at the table eating nothing but a lollipop. One of Laney’s favorite vices is drinking wine with a hint of something stronger mixed in, and she also frequently snorts cocaine in her hallway bathroom in the middle of family events. Her failure to keep up on e-mails and other communications results in her being the only parent not allowed in to school one morning when admission policies change, and her bad judgment has also led to an ongoing affair with her best friend’s husband (Thomas Sadoski). Bruce is well aware that Laney is not doing well, but every time he notices and points something out, it only drives Laney further away.

There are certainly echoes of her humorous tendencies that show up in Silverman’s performance as Laney, but it’s inarguably a dark turn that enables her to channel a vicious underside of addiction. Casting Silverman in this role is a bold choice but a relatively effective one, especially as she acts opposite Charles, who is usually likeable and dependable, which only contributes to her sense of self-worth as he swoops in to be the more responsible parent. The film begins from an interesting vantage point and stays there, but it doesn’t always feel genuine. Some of its drama is moving and involving, while other moments feel less poignant. Where the film leaves off also leaves much to be desired, presenting several chapters of a story which feels distinctly unfinished, which may well be the point but also doesn’t prove to be fittingly satisfactory.


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