Mental illness on screen, particularly as it pertains to women, always makes for an interesting subject to study. For men, from “A Beautiful Mind” to “Silver Linings Playbook,” the affliction often becomes like a hurdle on their road to victory. For women, it’s the problematized slippery slope that opens the floodgates to a wide variety of social ills.
This is especially true of Adam Salky’s “I Smile Back,” an illness-of-the-week style story saved from TV movie status only by virtue of picking up a theatrical distributor. Though star Sarah Silverman brings heart and passion to her role as depressed suburban housewife Laney Brooks, she can not overcome the shortcomings of the script by Paige Dylan and Amy Koppelman. Salky obsesses over her self-destructive tendencies and the behaviors that infantilize her to the same level as her children. He also adds plenty of ham-fisted thriller music behind her day-to-day activities, meant to emphasize just how much of a ticking time bomb she is.
Sure, it helps to feel and experience what people suffering from depression and anxiety go through. But do not reduce them to a set of clichés. Their lives are hard and complicated, not easily reduced to a set of storytelling devices. All something like “I Smile Back” does is turn Laney into a trainwreck barreling into a fragile society, which provides little help or hope for those silently struggling with their own demons. It practically gives everyone else an excuse to continue turning a blind eye to their pain. C+ /