Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

Review: I Smile Back

After watching a free screening of Sarah Silverman’s film, I Smile Back, I tried to think of other movies that made me feel as miserable as this one did. I’m sure there are dozens, but the two that immediately came to mine are A House of Sand and Fog and Revolution Road. For me, those films, while being completely depressing (and in the case of A House of Sand and Fog, a waste of much-needed time together for my wife and me as we wrestled with having three children under the age of six), at least had some compelling elements: A House of Sand and Fog offered an interesting glimpse into the life of an Iranian immigrant (plus it had Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly); Revolution Road gave an honest portrayal of the life of a 1950s housewife who isn’t ready to sacrifice her dreams (a topic I find fascinating, plus it had Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio). 

Unfortunately, I Smile Back is stuck in the hidden suburban drug culture, a topic I find excruciatingly boring. (Wasn't it already passe in 1966 with The Rolling Stones's "Mother's Little Helper"?) Twenty minutes into the film I found myself antsy with Silverman’s portrayal of a housewife who sinks into episodes of dangerous drug use and its byproducts. Silverman is very good, as is the supporting cast (including Josh Charles of The Good Wife and – one of my favorite shows of all-time – Sports Night), but the story itself is lacking. My friend Terry was more forgiving, but for me the film was predictable and all-too familiar. Yes, drugs are bad. They make you do bad things. They tear families apart. So what? What on Earth is this movie bringing to the forefront that hasn’t been done a thousand times before and a thousand times better?

And maybe that’s the problem. While a movie like Goodfellas is a gangster movie with a drug element, I Smile Back goes all in with the drugs with no interesting side story to supplement the main theme.

Afterward Terry and I discussed the film briefly while in the theater bathroom when a man asked us, “Did you just see that Smile movie?”

“Yep.”

Man, that was dark!

You betcha! And look, I’m okay with dark films that have something interesting to say (Buried, for instance), but I Smile Back is trudging up familiar territory. Despite the wonderful performances, there’s no way I could recommend this movie to a friend.  At some point you're taking someone's free time and choosing to shit on it. That's what this film does.

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