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Tag: I Smile Back

Sarah Silverman Shows She Has Dramatic Chops in “I Smile Back”

Comedienne Sarah Silverman showed up at the Chicago Film Festival showing of her serious drama “I Smile Back” on October 16th and answered some questions from the audience following the showing of the film that was one of the best indie films I saw during the 51st Chicago Film Festival.

Silverman portrays Laney Brooks, a mom who is so devoted to her children that she draws pictures on their lunch bags, but so screwed up from her own unhappy childhood, that her attempts to forge a solid nuclear family are sabotaged by self-loathing, addiction(s) to drugs, sex and alcohol, and the fear that “Every moment of beauty, it goes away, it fades…Nobody tells you that it is terrifying to love something so much.”

Director Adam Salky (the film “Dare”) assembled a top-notch cast, headed by Silverman but also featuring Josh Charles (“The Good Wife,” “Masters of Sex”), Thomas Sadoski (“The Newsroom,” “Life in Pieces”) and Chris Sarandon (“Dog Day Afternoon”). The source material is Amy Koppelman’s novel “I Smile Back”, which Koppelman adapted for the screen with the help of her writing partner Paige Dylan (wife of Jakob Dylan). When Koppelman heard Silverman on Howard Stern’s radio program talking about her own experiences with depression, she sent Silverman the novel on a whim. “I write these really small dark books and I just thought she would understand what I was trying to say… It was a miracle she opened it,” Koppelman said in an interview with “Variety’s” Allison Sadlier.

Silverman, herself, came out to introduce “I Smile Back” attired in a tight red dress with small cape-like sleeves and to accept the Breakthrough Award. Her introduction to the movie was, “I don’t like it when people talk before a movie. I think it taints the film.” And then she left, apparently to change into more ordinary clothing and eat spaghetti and French fries.

When she returned, following an impressive performance onscreen as the pill-popping wife, Laney Brooks, of Bruce Brooks (Josh Charles)—a woman who is bi-polar and off her meds— the audience had watched a woman in deep psychological trouble try to deal with her inner pain through self-medicating with pills, cocaine, alcohol and sex with Donnie (Thomas Sadorski), the husband of her pregnant friend and neighbor. She also finally is driven to try Rehab. But, throughout, she attempts to also play the role of perfect suburban wife and mother to two adorable children, Eli (Skylar Gaertner) and Janey (Shayne Coleman).

Laney’s comment, “I don’t see why anyone bothers loving anything. Don’t act like everything’s gonna’ be okay when, nothing is gonna’ be okay” gives a good idea of the film you’re going to see. It’s a film about depression. As we gradually learn, Laney has had issues for years, going back to when her father (Chris Sarandon) abandoned the family and never bothered to contact her after leaving. It is only later in a visit to dear old dad that we learn that her father left her mother because Mom had the same black streak, the same issues with substance abuse.

My only criticism of the film was the “Sopranos”-like ending, which I found unfulfilling. Up to that point, Silverman and the excellent supporting cast were riveting in their roles and held your attention throughout the depressing but realistic film.

As the film progresses, we learn that Laney is feeling dead inside. Without her lithium, she seems incapable of following Nancy Reagan’s advice to “Just say no.” She also feels shut out of her marriage, saying, “We used to be in this together. We used to be on the same team” to husband Bruce. [Silverman is currently in a real-life relationship with Michael Sheen of “Masters of Sex” —and talking about it much less than her previous widely-publicized relationship with television host Jimmy Kimmel).]

Here were some of Silverman’s candid answers to questions asked of her following the Chicago premiere of “I Smile Back,” which opened in select theaters October 23rd and will be available on demand on November 6th. It’s worth a look, containing one of the strongest female performances this year; the film was a sensation at Sundance.

Q1: How did you approach playing Laney?
A1: How you feel about Laney depends on the prism of your own experience—you may feel empathy, compassion or pity. (Silverman then cracked a joke that she now felt “sluggish” after downing spaghetti and French friends while the audience enjoyed the film.)

Q2: How long was the shoot and what was its budget?
A2: It took 20 days to shoot and the budget was $100,000. (The school scenes are shot at Five Towns’ College in Dix Hills, New York) I’m glad it was 20 compact days. It would have been really rough to do that for 3 months. I don’t have easy access to my emotions. I had convinced myself that between scenes it would be fun, but it wasn’t like that. The emotions were on my lap all the time. (Joking: “Try to go to sleep with the gentle tones of soft core murder.”)

Q3: How much did you rehearse beforehand?
A3: We rehearsed before each scene. We didn’t really have dedicated rehearsal time.

Q4: Was your work in comedy a past influence?
A4: Everything I’ve done before this sort of informed everything. It has to do with skills—timing. In my comedy, I’ve enjoyed playing the arrogant, self-involved idiot. Laney is self-loathing. She is self-obsessed because she is living in that future of “what if?” The only thing she really has control of is her own bad behavior.

Q5: How does the family in the film compare to your own family?
A5: I grew up in a house with few boundaries and almost too much freedom. I didn’t really learn to be guarded, to have the traditional family dynamic. I feel that Laney is a woman who gave up her job to marry. She is bored and depressed. Nothing is as idyllic as it seems. This is life behind closed doors.

Q6: What was it like working with the child actors?
A6: I loved working with the kids. Skylar (Eli, the son) is like a young Ron Howard. He was never bored. He was fortified by the set. Shayne, the little sister Janey, wasn’t aware of anything. The conversation she has with Josh Charles about sugar and how it’s bad for you was all Shayne just chatting.

Q7: Do you think you will be doing more serious roles in the future? (Silverman’s cousin asked this from the back of the room).
A7: I’m getting discovered and I’m only 44! (laughs)

First Week of 51st Chicago International Film Festival Brings Break-out Films

As Press, we are not allowed to write a full review of any of the films or documentaries until they are released. We can only write capsule reviews, so I shall write capsule reviews of the 10 films I’ve seen so far. I was unable to take part in viewing any films yesterday (Wednesday, Oct. 21) as I was on a panel in Highland Park regarding writing children’s books. My Toyota GPS took me right past the front of Wrigley Field both going and coming, just as the Cubs were being trounced by the Mets, so, as you can imagine, getting there and back was a lengthy ordeal.

Here are the films in the order in which I saw them, with a capsule review or comment (full reviews later and some Q&A material to follow):

“I Smile Back”

This small budget film features Sarah Silverman proving she has serious acting chops. She portrays Laney, an attractive, intelligent suburban wife and mother of two adorable children who suffers from depression and turns to destructive coping mechanisms. The film electrified this year’s Sundance Film Festival crowds with its unblinking plunge into the nature of addiction and the roots of self-loathing. The routinely excellent cast includes Josh Charles (“The Good Wife,” “Masters & Johnson”) portraying her long-suffering husband, veteran actor Christopher Sarandon as her father, and television’s Thomas Sadoski as Donnie (“Life in Pieces,” “The Newsroom”). Directed by Adam Salky, the film was shot for $100,000 in just 20 days.

“Embers” – Director Claire Carre’s film depicts a world where a neurological epidemic leaves survivors with no long-term memory. (Think a world where everyone has Alzheimer’s disease.) One young woman, quarantined by her father, craves freedom. Two lovers struggle to remember their connection. Described as being “like Memento en masse” this was one of the slowest-moving films of those I screened.

“James White” – Directed by Josh Mond, the best thing about “James White” is the acting by Christopher Abbott (“Girls”) and Cynthia Nixon (“Sex and the City) as a mother dying of cancer. A raw, affecting film that nearly everyone who has ever lost a loved one will be able to relate to, it is as depressing as it sounds. Abbott has the intensity of a young Pacino and Josh Mond has done a great job of translating to the screen some of the emotions he experienced with the passing of his own mother. (“The movie feels like I’m opening up my diary all the time to strangers.”) Q&A from the director and star of the film to follow.

“They Look Like People” – by Director Perry Blackshear. The write-up made the film sound like a modern take on “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” which is not totally incorrect. However, the film turned out to be less a horror movie and more a disturbing look at a young man on the edge of paranoid schizophrenia. The Q&A following this film featuring Wyatt Goodwin as the lead proved that a talented filmmaker can work nearly alone and produce a film in one month on a shoestring budget. (I can honestly say that, having reviewed film since 1970—45 years, if you’re counting— this is the first time the lead in a movie I am about to attend came down the line of patrons beforehand handing out buttons promoting the film.)

“Howard Shore” – See previous article on the Tribute to Howard Shore and check for it on Saturday, up on ReadersEntertainment.com.

Director Eytan Rockaway of "The Abandoned."

Director Eytan Rockaway of “The Abandoned.”

“The Abandoned” – From Director Eytan Rockaway comes this psychological horror film starring Jason Patric. In a vacant luxury complex, a young woman takes a job as one of two security guards covering the night shift (the complex is actually several New York courthouses). As she patrols the vast hallways, increasingly sinister phenomena threaten her, seemingly born from the building’s catacombs. A claustrophobic, bone-chilling thriller that features sound from the soundman honored for “Gravity.” A confusing ending, but a great beginning and middle.FilmFestival2015 058

“Looking for Grace” – This Australian film from Director/Writer Sue Brooks featured an almost all female group behind making it and the acting of Richard Roxburgh, who cleaned up at the 1st Annual Australian Oscars a few years back. Roxburgh played the lead in the television series “Rake” (which was later made into a tepid, short-lived American version starring Greg Kinnear). The amazing thing about the film is its ability to mix humor with pathos in the story of a rebellious teenager who leaves home by bus without permission to attend a concert several days away. It’s a look at rural Australia (shot in western Australia) and contains not only the story of Grace, the runaway off to see the rock group “Death Dog” with her friend Sapphire (and a pocketed $13,000 from the family’s safe), but also a story of everyday life and how everything can change in an instant. Recommended.

“Brooklyn” – This Ireland/UK film from Director John Crowley tells the story of Eilis (Saoirse Ronan of “The Lovely Bones”), a young Irish immigrant in 1950s Brooklyn who must decide whether to stay in America with her Italian boyfriend or return home to her widowed mother and a romance that develops unexpectedly when she must attend her sister Rose’s funeral. Beautiful cinematography and a well-told tale, but IMHO, they either needed to tell Miss Ronan to take off her high heels or they needed to find a taller male lead. The scenes in Central Park where she is to lay her head on her date’s shoulder are about as awkward as can be, since she is taller than he is, and must practically become a pretzel to pull the scene off at all. Develops slowly, but was enjoyable.

The entire clan came to the World Premiere of "Motley's Law" at the Chicago Film Festival on Oct. 20th.

The entire clan came to the World Premiere of “Motley’s Law” at the Chicago Film Festival on Oct. 20th.

“Motley’s Law” – A documentary from Danish filmmaker Nicole Horanyi, this was the World Premiere of the film and both lead and director were present, so I will be getting some Q&A remarks posted later. A captivating documentary about a former Mrs. Wisconsin, Kimberley Motley, who is the only American allowed to practice law in Afghanistan. Motley defends US and European citizens detained in a corrupt system and finds herself targeted as a foreigner. (A grenade is thrown through her apartment window). Meanwhile, Claude, her husband, back home watching their 3 children, goes to Milwaukee for a class reunion and is shot in the face! More to come on this one.

Kimberley Motley and Danish director Nicole Horanyi at the World Premier of their film "Motley's Law."

Kimberley Motley and Danish director Nicole Horanyi at the World Premier of their film “Motley’s Law.”

“I Am Michael” – U.S. Director Justin Kelly takes on the true life story of a former gay advocate (Michael Glatze) who goes from outspoken champion of the gay community as a writer and magazine editor to become a conservative Christian pastor and “ex-gay” therapist. (Michelle Bachman’s husband might like this one). Zachary Quinto gives a great performance as James Franco’s gay lover. The film was executive produced by Gus Van Sant.

Kimberly Motley of "Motley's Law."

Kimberly Motley of “Motley’s Law.”

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