I Smile Back

*1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

All is not right in suburbia. Laney Brooks, a wife and mother on the edge, has stopped taking her meds, substituting recreational drugs and the wrong men. With the destruction of her family looming, Laney makes a last, desperate attempt at redemption.
"The sort of film you'd expect to see in the lunchtime slot on True Entertainment, not in cinemas."

Bitches be crazy, yo? And crazy chicks are hot, or so the story goes, at least for those who haven't actually gone there. In these whitebread American suburbs a crazy chick who shows it on the surface is certainly unusual. That makes Laney Brooks fascinating to her neighbours in a way that she sadly isn't to more seasoned cinemagoers.

Played by Sarah Silverman, who is at least a capable actress and shows she can stretch beyond comedy, Laney is a housewife who secretly snorts cocaine in the bathroom and is having an affair with a boring man (Thomas Sadoski) whose kids attend the same school as hers. There are probably thousands like her all over America, so why we should pay particular attention to this one is unclear. Though Silverman works hard to bring depth to the character, she's thinly written and the supporting characters are barely developed at all. The result is the sort of film you'd expect to see in the lunchtime slot on True Entertainment, not in cinemas.

Copy picture

This wouldn't matter so much if the story went somewhere. Occasional interesting possibilities emerge. Laney's mixture of slacker behaviour and right wing rhetoric hints at an interesting background that we barely go into, despite some heavy exposition when she visits a psychiatrist. She's been there before so it offers us nothing deeper; it's merely an acknowledgement that her craziness is formally recognised, or formally assumed. To what extent should she be held responsible for her choices? Do they all stem from her father having left her mother when she was a child? As she points out, that happens to a lot of people. There are hints that she may be manic depressive. She may be exploiting her illness to get away with things and keep her adoring husband sympathetic. A lot of it may simply be caused by the drugs.

There's a more worrying aspect to this which is that the only real theme linking Laney's behaviour is their socially transgressive nature. This makes it hard to distinguish things like addiction, which is obviously a challenge to control, from expressions of her sexuality, which are approached in exactly the same way. the arc of the narrative effectively demonises that sexuality rather than exploring the impulse control issues and social frustration that make it problematic for Laney. It's the sort of reductionism one finds in cautionary videos made for schools, with equally weak logic.

I Smile Back is a wasted opportunity to explore issues around social conformity, mental illness and self expression. Where intelligent questions could have been asked about the dynamics of the central relationship, all we get is Mr Nice battling a monster.

Reviewed on: 07 Dec 2015
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I Smile Back packshot
All is not right in suburbia. Laney Brooks, a wife and mother on the edge, has stopped taking her meds, substituting recreational drugs and the wrong men. With the destruction of her family looming, Laney makes a last, desperate attempt at redemption.

Director: Adam Salky

Writer: Paige Dylan, Paige Dylan, Amy Koppelman, Amy Koppelman

Starring: Sarah Silverman, Josh Charles, Thomas Sadoski, Mia Barron, Skylar Gaertner, Shayne Coleman, Sean Reda, Billy Magnussen, Kristin Griffith, Oona Laurence, Clark Jackson, Terry Kinney, Gregory Dann, Sarah Dulat, Nick Taylor

Year: 2015

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Sundance 2015

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