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I Smile Back DVD Review

I Smile Back (2015) movie poster I Smile Back

Theatrical Release: October 23, 2015 / Running Time: 86 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Adam Salky / Writers: Amy Koppelman (book & screenplay); Paige Dylan (screenplay)

Cast: Sarah Silverman (Laney Brooks), Josh Charles (Bruce Brooks), Thomas Sadoski (Donny), Skylar Gaertner (Eli Brooks), Chris Sarandon (Roger), Terry Kinney (Dr. Page), Mia Barron (Susan), Shayne Coleman (Janey Brooks), Kristin Griffith (Nurse Pauline), Sean Reda (Henry), Oona Laurence (Daisy)

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In 1993-94, Sarah Silverman joined "Saturday Night Live" as a featured cast member, appearing in eighteen episodes that season and never returning. While the comedians she worked with there, including Adam Sandler, Mike Myers, Chris Farley, David Spade, Rob Schneider, went on to star in major movies, she settled for guest appearances on TV shows and bit parts in films.
Now, with all of the aforementioned, even the enduringly popular Sandler, finding their careers slowed, Silverman just appears to be hitting her stride. The 45-year-old comedienne has a full and varied slate of film and television work. She's not even limiting herself to comedy, having recently earned a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Lead Actress for her turn in the dark, sobering independent drama I Smile Back.

Adapted from the 2008 novel of the same name by Amy Koppelman, I Smile Back centers on Laney Brooks (Silverman), a wealthy suburban New York housewife with a loving husband and two young children. That sounds like the dream life, but it isn't so for the depressive Laney, who seeks her kicks from infidelity, cocaine, alcohol and prescription medication. She resents her husband Bruce (Josh Charles), a life insurance salesman who claims he "wrote the Bible for the here and now." She doesn't at all keep up with e-mails from her kids' school regarding parking and parent ID policies. And she'd rather suck on a lollipop than eat real food.

Depressed housewife Laney Brooks (Sarah Silverman) does much to concern her husband Bruce (Josh Charles) in "I Smile Back."

During one drug high, Laney goes far enough to pleasure herself with her daughter's stuffed animal while the young girl lies asleep in the same room. That's enough to get Laney to do a month of rehab, in which she opens up about her lingering daddy issues as the potential source of her current problems.

This is a strange, dark film presenting an unflinching portrait of depression and addiction. Silverman, who's rarely shown dramatic chops anywhere, is fully committed to the role. There is never the sense of "Look at the comedic actress revealing a new side!" the way there was with, say, Jennifer Aniston on Cake. If you didn't know Silverman before this movie,
you'd never know she was a comic treading new ground. It is an impressive and believable performance in a depressing and challenging film that remains sympathetic of its protagonist, even as she plunges into depths and performs all kind of regrettable actions.

The screenplay, which Koppelman herself wrote with newcomer Paige Dylan, considers untidy emotions and impulses that few films give any thought to. You hurt with Laney and wish for some kind of happy escape that neither the movie nor life can give her. The bleakness and uncertainty of her plight, with no fairy tale ending in sight, makes it tough to judge her too harshly when she hooks up with random bar patrons, curses out the Thanksgiving-bashing parent of her kid's classmate, or sneaks off during family time for a hit of coke. It's tough to understand how she got to this place; a subplot involving that estranged father (Chris Sarandon) makes for one of the film's most compelling scenes, and sheds light on one of the things weighing down on Laney. But it does not connect all the dots or give us any clue as to how she can get back on track.

While upstate for Bruce's insurance convention, Laney (Sarah Silverman) pays a visit to her long estranged father (Chris Sarandon).

A less thoughtful film would do the work for you, but this one makes you feel all the pain and mull these difficult decisions with the character. Few will "enjoy" that experience, but those who can tolerate melancholy and discomfort should appreciate the complex portrayals that director Adam Salky, seasoned predominantly in gay-themed shorts, gives us.

Struggling to find an audience from a max theater count of just 18, I Smile Back hit DVD and VOD this week from Broad Green Pictures.

I Smile Back DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extra Not Subtitled
Release Date: February 23, 2016
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $26.99
Black Keepcase Also available on Amazon Instant Video


I Smile Back gets a passable but far from extraordinary transfer on DVD. The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation looks a tad washed-out and short on detail, though it does not suffer from any specific drawbacks. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack does the job it needs to, without garnering notice good or bad.

Despite the film's weight and darkness, Sarah Silverman still manages to give a lighthearted Q & A at the Toronto International Film Festival. Laney is characteristically depressed on the "I Smile Back" DVD main menu.


The DVD holds a single bonus feature in the substantial "In Conversation with...Sarah Silverman at TIFF.40" (19:19).
At last September's Toronto International Film Festival (for those who couldn't decode that abbreviation), the actress gives a charismatic talk about the film and its dramatic challenges, answering a host's questions before the floor is opened up to the public in attendance for a few questions. It's tautly-edited and appropriately revealing.

The disc opens with trailers for Knight of Cups, 99 Homes, 10,000 km, and Break Point. The menu's "Also from Broad Green Pictures" section holds access to these trailers as well as ones for Song of Lahore, A Walk in the Woods, Learning to Drive, Samba, and Eden. Sadly, the studio did not think to include I Smile Back's own trailer.

As Broad Green has yet to embrace digital copies, no inserts accompany the plain gray disc inside the unslipcovered standard keepcase.

The routine main menu loops an ordinary scored montage, while submenus are static and silent.

Laney (Sarah Silverman) is relieved to have survived crossing a busy intersection on a red light without looking or steering.


I Smile Back is not an easy or uplifting viewing, but this drama does provoke thought and features a fully committed Sarah Silverman performance unlike anything in her past. There's enough here to recommend a rental for those with a tolerance for depressing material and the bonus Q & A adds value to an otherwise standard DVD.

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Reviewed February 26, 2016.

Text copyright 2016 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2015 Broad Green Pictures, Oscar Crosby Films, Film House Germany, and 2016 Broad Green Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.