TIFF 2015: I Smile Back

By @cj_prin
TIFF 2015: I Smile Back

What’s the point of a good performance if it’s wasted on a bad film? That’s the question I had in my head after watching Adam Salky’s I Smile Back. Sarah Silverman plays Laney, a wife and mother of two kids with a successful husband (Josh Charles) who’s about to publish a book. But Laney has severe issues with addiction, clinging on to any possible vice she can get her hands on if her mood happens to go the wrong way. She stops taking her prescribed medication to curb her addictions, and soon finds herself drinking, snorting cocaine, popping Xanax and sleeping with a family friend (Thomas Sadoski). Janey hits rock bottom, goes to rehab, and then tries to re-adjust once she gets out.

The film’s focus on the struggle to break the cycle of addiction feels refreshing in its frankness, but Salky’s direction and the script (by Amy Koppelman and Paige Dylan) fall into a rather simplistic, familiar depiction of addiction that feels more at home in a TV movie. Laney is a textbook example of daddy issues, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that her father winds up throwing her into yet another self-destructive phase. As a result, there’s a dated feel to the entire film, with its entirely white, affluent cast of characters dealing with their rich people problems. It might have worked better in the 90s.

And while the material is lacking, Silverman commits to every piece of it with full force. Some people might find her performance a little too obvious in its attempt to play against type, but even if that were the case nobody could deny that she completely hurls herself into the role, going to places a lot of actors wouldn’t dare. It’s just too bad she commits herself to a film that’s clearly beneath her efforts. Even an abrupt ending, one that’s admirable in its refusal to give any resolution, can’t land because it’s preceded by a sequence that can only be described as abysmal in its attempt to be “raw” and “gritty.” Other than acting as a curio for people wanting to see Silverman’s range, I Smile Back doesn’t offer much else.

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