Sarah Silverman surprises in lackluster drama

Kat Fadrillan
Sarah Silverman moves from comedy to drama in "I Smile Back."

The main appeal of “I Smile Back” is Sarah Silverman in her first major non-comedic role as a drug-addicted housewife. Audiences familiar with her standup act may enter the theater wondering if the comedian can pull off acting in a serious role. Silverman is, in fact, convincing but the film has little to offer beyond one dimensional characters and a poorly thought-out script with little to say about the serious topics it covers.

“I Smile Back” focuses on a stay-at-home mother Laney (Silverman) battling depression. She lives with her devoted husband (Josh Charles) and two children in their pristine suburban house. There is little plot momentum beyond this initial set up and the film never solidifies a message about depression. It strives to depict the apparent desolation and strenuous fight those with depression endure; a rising topic in modern media, yet it fails to accomplish showing that.

While Silverman’s performance is convincing, it fails to compensate for the film’s failure to convey a raw story about depression. Silverman doesn’t overact, though she easily could have done so in a role of an agonized, depressed woman. She acts authentically and her efforts are clear in the scenes that require great anguish; because of that we sympathize with her character despite the reckless, selfish actions Laney partakes in. Her occasional comedic charm provides us with needed relief, yet never threatens the seriousness of her performance. Silverman proves those reluctant to see her in a drama wrong.

However, Silverman’s performance is one of the few admirable aspects of the film. Beyond it, the script falls to cliched lines. For instance, in a scene with her husband, Laney asks, “Why act like everything will be okay when nothing will be?” The line stands as an example of how the script strove to be profound and to ponder on the meaning of life, but ends up becoming reduced to a banality an overdramatic teenager might utter.  

The script even makes the sentimental family scenes trite. One particularly tacky scene with Laney, her husband and their two children dancing and hugging together in the kitchen was a bit cringe-worthy.

The direction doesn’t help either. It strives too hard for metaphoric art with a few too many montages of characters looking out windows and raunchy sex scenes that don’t contribute to the story. Rather than revealing to us the pain and isolation countless people with depression experience, it indulges in scenes that appear more concerned with stylistic indulgences.

It is difficult to criticize and diminish a movie that concerns the subject of depression — a crucial topic in desperate need of public discussion. Yet, “I Smile Back” neglects the important story it strives to tell regardless of Silverman’s efforts and unexpected performance.

“I Smile Back” premieres on Oct. 23 at the Angelika Theater in New York.

Email Kat Fadrillan at [email protected]

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