Sometimes we choose a life we just aren’t ready for, and the longer we live it, the more dangerous it becomes. That seems to be the message of Adam Salky’s I Smile Back, adapted from Amy Koppelman’s powerhouse novel of the same name. Simply put, it’s the story of Lany (Sarah Silverman) a loving suburban housewife plagued by reckless and increasingly compulsive behaviours. Her husband (Josh Charles) and children watch in horror as she spirals out of control.
Silverman will probably have you in tears with this gutting and brutal portrayal of nightmarish womanhood in the contemporary world. Her cross-section of life under the patriarchy is going to be a bitter pill for many, delving head-first into issues like depression, anxiety, and loss of self. Issues that are dealt with in a tender and honest way. Silverman’s performance is just impressive on every level, a soul-crushing endeavour from start to finish, not glamorising or skimping on things that are too often cut out in other narratives.
Grinning and bearing a life you hate will only result in a deeper level of disenfranchisement. That’s what’s so enraging about the film, it really wants you to understand the plight of women shoehorned into existences they haven’t quite come to terms with. Josh Charles is a fantastic counter to Silverman, playing her confused and hateful husband, his every behaviour deniyign any kind of understanding. Every time he grabs the kids and leaves the table, and the dishes, the point is clear, but not strained. The film is subtly demonising the domestic environment with little flicks of acidic behaviour, and those in the end are the most poignant reminders of how dangerous family life can be when you’re not invested.
Lana’s behaviours; cheating, drug addiction, self-destruction, and polarised mood-swings are acts of desperation to feel something. The often graphic representations of a collapsing self-control are some of the most gruelling to be found at Sundance 2015. In the end this is Silverman’s show, her performance, showing up is what makes the film both believable, relatable, and crushing in its final moments.
I Smile back is a sedate experience allowing for moments of stark domestic horror that seem brutal in their unflinching honesty. Most of this energy comes from Silverman who flaunts an intensity, and total lack of it, that says more than any of her lines.
Dir: Adam Salky
Stars: Sarah Silverman, Josh Charles, Thomas Sadoski