Sarah Silverman kills it in the intense addiction drama ‘I Smile Back’
“I Smile Back” is now playing in New York and other select cities. Examiner Dorri Olds landed exclusive interviews with author Amy Koppelman (Oct. 29) and director Adam Salky (Oct. 19) to discuss the film. It stars Sarah Silverman in a breakout dramatic tour de force.
In the mornings Laney Brooks (Silverman) draws her children’s names with hearts and stars on their lunch bags. She runs to her son Eli (Skylar Gaertner) after a nightmare and sends little Janey (Shayne Coleman) into giggling fits. Clearly she loves her kids.
The problem is Laney has gone off her lithium and starts to mix her own pharma cocktails to self-medicate. She lives the sneaky life of an addict, getting high on booze and drugs, lying to those who love her and having meaningless sex with multiple partners as an outlet for intense psychic pain.
Laney lives in a pricey New Jersey house and doesn’t have to work. Her husband Bruce (Josh Charles) is a gorgeous insurance salesman slash author who loves her. He tries to help but Laney is on an unstoppable odyssey of self-destruction. She is out of control, fueled by mental illness.
It’s painful to watch. But for those who have known depression, addiction, or watched a loved one deteriorate, it is a compelling drama with a realistic portrayal based on the critically acclaimed novel by Amy Koppelman.
Koppelman cowrote the screenplay with Paige Dylan, and Salky directs. It shares some elements of other addiction movies — how could it not? It brings to mind films like “Sherrybaby” with Maggie Gyllenhaal, “Half Nelson” with Ryan Gosling, “When a Man Loves a Woman” with Meg Ryan and “Cake” with Jennifer Aniston.
The story is not autobiographical. The author is happily married and faithful to screenwriter Brian Koppelman whose new series “Billions” opens on Showtime in Jan. 2016.
“We as a society,” Koppelman said, “accept that men will go to Vegas and we say, ‘Oh, he went and fucked some hooker,’ or, ‘He had an affair because he was under a lot of pressure,’ but a woman who is loved and has a nice family — a mother — to go and [use sex] to escape, to sleep with men as a place where that’s the relief of anxiety, that is still something that’s very taboo and people don’t want to think about. If you’re Anna Karenina and you sleep with Vronsky, well that’s the love of your life but if you’re Laney Brooks and you’ve got a great husband and you go [with] some guy in a bar, then you are a bad person. I think it’s easier to think of her that way than to think that that’s a manifestation of her [mental illness].
It is courageous that Koppelman doesn’t bring you out of the darkness. This is not a “Let’s bring the kiddies to a fun movie.” It is a haunting tale in the vein of “Requiem for a Dream” and “Leaving Las Vegas.”
Koppelman’s new novel “Hesitation Wounds” comes out Nov. 3 and is now available for preorder. This time the protagonist is Dr. Susanna (“Susa”) Seliger, a psychiatrist who works with the toughest cases of treatment-resistant depression. She uses shock therapy — no, Susa is no Nurse Ratched. She’s coming from a scientific approach to the brain but her own emotions begin to get in the way when one patient, Jim, reminds her of the brother she is still grieving. New York Times bestselling author Caroline Leavitt (“Is This Tomorrow”) calls the novel “brilliant” and “hypnotic.”
“I Smile Back” director Salky spoke openly when asked if he’d ever struggled with vices like alcohol, drugs or sex. “I’ve got to think about how I want to answer. I’m not an addict. Like everyone, I’ve had some experiences with those things but what drew me to the story were people in my life who are very, very close to me and struggle with addiction and [mental] illness.”
“I Smile Back” is Silverman’s movie. She gives a powerhouse performance sans any sign of comedic schtick. It’s a film that stays with you. Everyone has problems but you’ll be grateful for yours. You wouldn’t want Laney’s, that’s for sure.
“I Smile Back” will be available On Demand and DVD Nov. 6, 2015. Addiction drama. Rated R. 85 min.