Completely redefining her public persona (and hopefully breaking her into a higher echelon of roles), Sarah Silverman trades scabrous one-liners for a whole-body plunge into a housewife’s devastating drug addictions. Not your everyday lunge for artistic seriousness, Silverman’s Laney is a performance of muted shades: We watch the furtive gulps of wine and raiding of secret stashes of coke and pills, and sense that this is a woman long used to hiding in plain sight. Just as rivetingly, Laney throws exquisite side-eye at her husband, Bruce (Josh Charles), a slightly fatuous insurance salesman, suggesting a deeper existential reaction to her suburban stultification, which she knocks back with infidelity, angry snits and yawning neediness.
Based on Amy Koppelman’s 2008 novel, I Smile Back can’t shake its slightly tired structural similarities to other drug dramas, and there’s an obvious imbalance between Silverman’s mighty commitment and the movie around her. Laney is a black hole; it would have been interesting to let a beam or two of light escape, so we could better appreciate her harrowing collapse. But there’s unusually fine attention paid to her anxious kids, suggesting a cycle that won’t end with one person.
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