‘I Smile Back’ has one thing going for it

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I Smile Back (2015)

Directed by Adam Salky

Apparently, taking hard drugs and having regrettable sex with a character played by Thomas Sadoski automatically qualifies you for acting awards. It did for Reese Witherspoon in “Wild,” and it helped Sarah Silverman snag a S.A.G. nomination for her performance in “I Smile Back.” As a whole, the film goes by without much impact, but it does serve as a showcase for Silverman’s surprising dramatic acting ability. To watch “I Smile Back” is to witness Silverman’s career renaissance. It’s the best performance she’s ever given, and a triumphant middle finger to the idea that there aren’t roles in Hollywood for women over 40.

Laney Brooks (Silverman) struggles to raise two kids (Skyler Gaertner and Shayne Coleman) and keep her marriage to Bruce (Josh Charles) afloat. Her depression leads to affairs and drug use. Rehab only helps so much. For the sake of the kids, Bruce gives Laney her last chance. But it’s not an easy road she’s on, and the obstacles appear endless.

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Two first-time writers—including Amy Koppelman, adapting her 2008 novel of the same name—struggle to fit “I Smile Back” on the big screen. It seems equal parts artsy and amateurish. There isn’t much story here. And almost all of the characters are static and unchanging. They don’t grow, so we can’t grow with them. But Silverman overcomes the difficulties of working with an unflattering script. She shines like few actresses did last year. And her support—Josh Charles and Thomas Sadoski—gives Silverman a boost she doesn’t really need. They all make each other better. It’s a strong ensemble. But they’re working with a story that doesn’t go anywhere. Watch “I Smile Back” to see Sarah Silverman take the next step in her career. But don’t expect much else.

6/10

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