It’s never an easy feat to portray someone suffering from mental illness or addiction, even for the most seasoned of dramatic actor. Enter Sarah Silverman, known for her don’t-give-two-fucks comedy and a few turns in dramatic roles, to deliver one of the most surprising performances at TIFF this year.
In I Smile Back, Silverman goes from zero to one hundred in an electric portrayal of a woman suffering from compulsive urges to indulge in reckless behaviour. Laney Brooks (Silverman) is married to a successful and loving husband with two terrific kids. They share a big, beautiful home situated in suburban New Jersey, and from the outside, appear to have it all. Despite her seemingly idyllic domestic existence, Laney is leading a double life, having an affair with her husband’s best friend and taking a mix of cocaine, amphetamines and other controlled substances.
One night, after hitting rock bottom, Laney’s husband Bruce (Josh Charles) is convinced she needs treatment and lovingly checks her into rehab. Things improve for Laney temporarily, but eventually she relapses, turning her family’s life upside down.
Adapted from Amy Koppelman’s novel of the same name, the film follows the highs and lows of an addict struggling to recover and remain sober while dealing with depression and anxiety. Silverman bares her soul, delivering an honest and heart-wrenching version of Laney that you can’t help but empathize with; despite the irrefutable damage she’s causing her family.
Directed by Adam Salky, I Smile Back doesn’t tie things up in a predictable bow, giving the audience the satisfaction of seeing Laney achieve the balance she needs to survive. But it reminds us that these illnesses aren’t easily overcome, and for many, are a battle they must face everyday.
“I have experience with depression in my life and I don’t have a problem with addiction, but I’m a comedian and I’m surrounded by it, so I had a lot of resources,” explained Silverman in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter. She was also quoted saying that her “performance is so good.” Normally, news of an actor marvelling over their own talents would make me cringe, but given Silverman’s notorious sense of humour I’m sure she’s humbled by the praise her performance is garnering.
Tickets for the I Smile Back screening at the Elgin Theatre on Thursday, September 17th are still available (at time of publishing) at tiff.net.
Originally published in The Province.