"I Smile Back" is very nearly as raw and unsparing as a film not ending in a bloodbath can get. Like its lead character, it feels everything just a little too deeply, the sweet intermittent highs suffocated by an anguish from which escape seems to be unreachable. Cinematic depictions of suburban dysfunction are almost as old as the medium itself, but this particular story, stunningly directed by Adam Salky (2009's "Dare") and written by Paige Dylan & Amy Koppelman (based on Koppelman's 2008 novel), is treated with such aching care and uncompromising vitality it might as well be the first of its kind. At its steadfast center is comedienne Sarah Silverman (2014's "A Million Ways to Die in the West"), her transformative dramatic performance nothing short of monumental. She has dabbled in serious fare before—her supporting turn in 2012's "Take This Waltz" was eye-opening—but embodying the self-destructive, mentally ailing Laney is a bold leap forward in proving how much more there is to her than simply an acerbic, frequently typecast actress who can successfully land a joke.
Stay-at-home mom Laney Brooks (Sarah Silverman) fiercely loves her children, Eli (Skylar Gaertner) and Janey (Shayne Coleman). She wants to be the devoted, caring wife she knows her husband, motivational insurance guru Bruce (Josh Charles), deserves. Behind closed doors, however, she is barely keeping it together, wrestling with so many demons—depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, adultery—she's long lost count. With one part of her mind stuck in the sadness of her past and another part filled with anxiety over what her future might hold, Laney wears a cracking visage of normalcy in her present. There is no disputing her kids mean the world to her, which only makes her feel more guilty about the turmoil she is experiencing and the ways in which her behavior could damage their emotional development. When a late-night substance binge leads her to commit a perverse sexual act on her daughter's bedroom floor, it is her apparent, long-coming rock-bottom. Laney agrees to a stay at a rehab facility, but finds it difficult to confront with her therapist (Terry Kinney) the underlying roots which have led her to her escalating troubles. Once she returns home, she makes a newly sober go at picking up with her domestic life. She is not well, though, and no one-month sojourn in the country was ever going to be able to mend the deep-seated problems continuing to plague her.
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