Funny woman Sarah Silverman shows again that she’s capable of true dramatic depth onscreen in her portrayal of Laney Brooks in I Smile Back, playing a suburban wife and mother who keeps sprinting back into the burning building of her of all-consuming addictions.
As she did with struggling alcoholic Geraldine in the superior-in-every-way Take This Waltz, Silverman takes on a tragically self-destructive character. Laney wants to be the fiercely devoted mother she sees herself to be, but her habits compete with her happiness.
Outwardly, she’s got a great life straight out of a glossy magazine, living in a huge federal-style house with caring husband Bruce (Josh Charles) and cute kids Janey and Eli (Shayne Coleman and Skylar Gaertner).
Because she’s a very good liar, Laney can often hide her need for cocaine, booze and risky sex from others. She gets the latter (most of the time) with fellow cokehead Donny (Thomas Sadoski). But she’s out of control and plagued by the aftermath of her stupid choices, whether drunk dialing the mother of one of her kid’s classmates, or disappearing for days.
Silverman puts herself out there with admirable skill. She’s not afraid to allow Laney to be as flawed as she needs to be, while allowing her trademark faux-innocent verbal side-swipes to surface to good effect.
What’s lacking here is a well-crafted, balanced script (Amy Koppelman and Paige Dylan working from Koppelman’s book) to make Silverman’s hard work worthwhile.
Rather, I Smile Back pummels with nastiness, then moves from one shocking event to the next without a backward glance. There’s no explaining why Laney is who she is, save for an exchange that feels crammed in, pointing the finger (predictably) at daddy issues. The story is hardly helped by the abrupt ending. Silverman deserves better.