MVFF38 Diary Day 2: ‘I Smile Back,’ ‘Here Is Harold’
The second day of MVFF38 saw the arrival of Sarah Silverman to promote I Smile Back, the actress’ first dramatic lead. I had the pleasure of meeting Silverman during a private cocktail party set up for the San Francisco Film Critics Circle (of which I am inexplicably a member) and she was sweet as can be. Despite the film’s dark subject matter and the fact that she’s been receiving some serious praise from critics and moviegoers for her impassioned performance, she was all laughs and accepted the adulation with humility and self-deprecation.
Enter the Void
After watching I Smile Back, I came away with two main thoughts. a) Sarah Silverman is a real-deal actor who should do more dramatic work and b) I Smile Back is one of the cruelest, bleakest, most upsetting, unappetizing movies I’ve seen all year. Silverman plays a stay-at-home mom whose bout with chronic depression dismantles everything in her life and pushes her husband (Josh Charles) and two kids far, far away. Directed by Adam Salky, the movie is primarily concerned with exploring in upsetting detail the different effects and stages of depression, but the story feels like a bridge to nowhere. Chronic depression is serious business, but the material doesn’t have enough depth to warrant how borderline sadistic it is. Silverman’s character gets beat up, humiliated, abandoned, and everything in between, and while the actress fully embraces the role and all the challenges that come with it, the film provides little insight, making it feel more like a depression simulator than a work of art.
Built to Last
Nordic humor, in all its dry, dark, offbeat glory, makes me laugh harder than just about anything these days, and director Gunnar Vikene’s Here Is Harold is one of the funniest Nordic comedies you’ll find, period. It’s my favorite thing I’ve seen at the festival so far, and considering how much I loved Spotlight, that’s saying a lot. Bjørn Sundquist plays Harold, a furniture shop owner who gets driven out of business by the new IKEA across the street. Having lost everything, he hatches a half-baked plan to kidnap IKEA’s founder (Björn Granath) and force him to apologize to the world for selling them shoddy furniture. The snags, follies, and friends Harold meets on his journey are best left a surprise, but I will say that the story is surprisingly moving and soulful, with touching moments that blindside you in between the laughs. Nordic humor has an obsession with death and misfortune that allows it to couple beautifully with even the darkest material; look no further than Here Is Harold for proof.