This is a capsule review. A full review will be posted when the film hits theatres.
What few smirks and grins exist in I Smile Back seem either in jest or vain. This harrowing downward spiral of a drama puts you next to Laney, a wife and mother struggling with mental health issues that manifest in dangerous lies, alcohol abuse, pill addition, and deviant sex.
Propelled from an impressive central performance by Sarah Silverman, I Smile Back introduces us to Laney as she’s seemingly on the verge of going over the edge. She reflects on family memories, though each one less pleasant than the last. While she’s doing this, she watches her husband (Josh Charles), son, and daughter play basketball outside. Then she does a line of cocaine, judges her naked body in the mirror, and gets on with her night.
A stint in rehab later follows fights with her husband and other disheartening betrayal. This leads to a confrontation with a man from her past, offering a semblance of what may have brought here her, but this film is less about the why than it is the how. Laney’s destructive behavior is deep-rooted in the past, but increasingly harmful in the present.
So it pains to watch. I Smile Back is an actor’s movie and a vehicle for Silverman, whose actions tear the viewer between sympathy and abhorrence; they tear her husband, too. The film doesn’t necessarily have a beginning or ending. Instead, it’s a staggeringly tragic part of Laney’s life that is captured. It seems to be a vicious cycle for her, too.
I Smile Back features a potent performance by Sarah Silverman, who makes her character's downward spiral both captivating and tragic.