May 18

“The Hilarious World of Depression” by John Moe

Public radio personality John Moe, who has a podcast called The Hilarious World of Depression, now has a memoir by the same name. Yes, he’s a funny person; yes, he’s been depressed most of his life. And that’s not all—his brother died by suicide; his father was alcoholic.

From the publisher:

Inspired by the immediate success of the podcast, Moe has written a remarkable investigation of the disease, part memoir of his own journey, part treasure trove of laugh-out-loud stories and insights drawn from years of interviews with some of the most brilliant minds facing similar challenges. Throughout the course of this powerful narrative, depression’s universal themes come to light, among them, struggles with identity, lack of understanding of the symptoms, the challenges of work-life, self-medicating, the fallout of the disease in the lives of our loved ones, the tragedy of suicide, and the hereditary aspects of the disease.

Moe likes being able to put mental health issues out in the open, easing stigma for “saddies” while also educating the “normies.” Melissa Broder, New York Times:

The Hilarious World of Depression…could be a particularly useful tool for those who grew up in homes where seeking therapy was seen as weakness, those who don’t have the language for mental illness, and particularly for men age 50 and older. If you’re looking for a Father’s Day book for a depressed dad who is aware of his condition but averse to seeking treatment, this is the one.

An illuminating excerpt from the review at Publishers Weekly:

Despite his suicidal ideation and his struggle to move past his guilt after his brother’s suicide, Moe’s story is not bleak. While he does not come out on the mythical other side, he learns—with the help of medication, dogs, listening to music, and therapy—to break the ‘habit of converting stress into bleak, goth-eyeliner-wearing despair.’ Such side-eye commentary separates Moe’s story from the ‘trite ’70s self-help’ he loathes, as does the inclusion of quotes from podcast guests Maria Bamford, Patton Oswalt, and others. Moe’s edifying, enjoyable take on the realities of living with depression will uplift any reader.

Selected quotes from Moe’s recent interview with Terry Gross, NPR:

I didn’t want to be taken away from my family. I didn’t want to get in trouble. I didn’t want to be institutionalized. So I thought, I better keep it a secret. But it was just this unsourced terror that I had….It led to a lot of kind of hyper-achieving mentality. I joined every activity at school. I was elected to class offices of vice president and president of my class. I tried to be the friendliest, most outgoing kid I could — thinking that that could be medicinal and counteract it.

A big thing I’ve been hearing [during the pandemic] is a fair number of depressed people doing miraculously OK through this, because we’ve been preparing for this for a long time.

Andy Richter was on our show and he’s compared his depression to a bad back. Like, you know, that it’s a thing that you have, and sometimes you’re feeling great, and then when it starts to flare up, then you need to take a hard look at it. You need to go back to your therapies and your treatments. You need to look at what’s the best way to address this flare up: Is that medication? Is it physical therapy (if it’s a bad back) or mental therapy (if it’s your mind)? So, things might go wrong, but you have a toolkit for dealing with it.

Nov 13

“I Smile Back”: Sarah Silverman with Depression, Addiction

The screenplay for I Smile Back, adapted from Amy Koppelman‘s 2008 novel, was written with actor/comedian Sarah Silverman in mind for Laney, the depressed and and substance-abusing lead character. The comedian, who has suffered bouts of depression and anxiety herself since her teens, just seemed like the right fit.

Koppelman may have been right. As David Rooney (Hollywood Reporter) states, “A gutsy performance by Sarah Silverman — annihilating almost every trace of her comedy persona as her character spirals through one punishing bout of depression, addiction and self-sabotage after another, multiple times redefining rock-bottom — is the chief distinction of Adam Salky‘s I Smile Back.”

“Ultimately,” he adds later about the movie as a whole, however, this all proves “less wrenching than numbing.”

Laney’s married to Bruce (Josh Charles), and they have two young kids, Eli (Skylar Gaertner) and Janey (Shayne Coleman). Scott Foundas, Variety, describes Bruce as “a successful insurance salesman and self-help author who initially seems like such a pompous dolt (he describes his book, hilariously titled ‘Hedging Your Bets Against God,’ as ‘a Bible for the here and now’) that you wonder if he might not be the root of all that ails her.” But he’s not.

Although Laney does go for help, most of the movie occurs in her post-rehab phase.

Portrayal of Mental Health Issues

Scott FoundasVariety:

…(T)he Laney we meet at the start of ‘I Smile Back’ is already significantly damaged goods, having stopped taking her prescription lithium and slipped back into a series of old, self-destructive habits: cocaine, vodka, amphetamines and torrid afternoon sex with the restaurateur husband (Thomas Sadoski) of a close family friend (Mia Barron)…

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter:

The filmmakers keep the roots of Laney’s malaise inexplicit, only scraping the surface in sessions with a shrink (Terry Kinney) during her first stint in rehab. There are abandonment issues stretching back to her father’s exit when she was nine, thereafter remaining incommunicado. And there’s an encroaching fear that loving anybody, her children most of all, means living with the crippling fear of losing them. In more subtle ways, it’s suggested that the privileged complacency of her upper-middle-class environment eats away at her sense of herself.

Katie Walsh, The Playlist: “…(T)here are a few things left to wonder about, like why isn’t this lady in some NA or AA meetings? Or, why doesn’t she have a job? Or see a therapist after rehab?”

Below, a brief clip of Laney speaking with her rehab counselor, Dr. Page:

The trailer:

Selected Reviews

Scott Foundas, Variety: “There are echoes here of real-life cases like that of Diane Schuler, the Long Island soccer mom who killed eight people while driving under the influence in 2009, and you come away from ‘I Smile Back’ with a better sense of how something like that might happen. It’s there in Silverman’s eyes, which flicker with an exquisite, agonized mixture of pleasure and shame as she plunges once more back into the abyss.”

Jeanette Catsoulis, New York Times: “…a wearying loop of slug-snort-crash that leaves Ms. Silverman out on a ledge and the audience with no way to reach her.”

Christy Lemire, rogerebert.com: “It feels rushed at 85 minutes and features an abrupt ending that goes beyond intriguingly ambiguous to enormously unsatisfying. Truly, the movie just…ends. But even before that, the narrative consists of an uneven mix of powerful moments and random happenings. Individual scenes can be tense but the arc as a whole lacks momentum. ‘I Smile Back’ should have been devastating. Silverman is willing to take you there. What it ends up being is frustrating.”

Aug 26

“Two Days, One Night”: Film Depicts Depression, Quietly

Critical favorite Two Days, One Nightjust released on DVD, is of interest to this blog because of its portrayal of depression…

Depression may feel endless, but it’s never constant. It comes and goes in torturous peaks and valleys, often triggered by external influences beyond anyone’s control. We laugh, we cry; we scream, we whisper — it’s a process. On a long enough timeline, the illness may become a safety net — or a form of seclusion — offering sanctity and solitude because, after all, that’s what has become the norm. If anything of this rings a bell, it should; everyone battles with depression at one point or another. Whether it’s conquered or contained, however, is how the lines are typically drawn.

With Two Days, One Night, two-time Palme d’Or winners Luc Dardenne and Jean-Pierre Dardenne turn their camera on Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard for a swift 95-minute portrait of the pitfalls and struggles of depression. Michael Roffman, Consequence of Sound

The Plot

A young Belgian worker, Sandra (Marion Cotillard), finds out she’s at risk of being fired. David Sims, The Atlantic, further explains:

Sandra, we gradually learn, is resurfacing from a bout of depression that saw her miss time at work, and in her absence her bosses realized they could live without her by spreading her workload out among the other employees. They thus face a cruel choice, proposed by their bosses: They can either vote to receive a 1,000 Euro bonus, or save Sandra’s job and let her come back to work. After losing one vote, Sandra is permitted to make her case amid talk of management interference. Two Days, One Night follows Sandra’s sometimes excruciating, sometimes heartwarming journey through town trying to convince the co-workers she barely knows to reject the money and give her another chance.

More details from A.O. Scott, New York Times:

Sandra and her husband, Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), live with their two young children in a clean, well-appointed townhouse, a big, hard-won step up from the ‘social housing’ where they used to live. The thought of going back is especially galling to Manu, who works in the kitchen of a chain restaurant and who pushes his wife to make her case. Anxious, frequently tearful and quick to reach for a Xanax, Sandra would rather curl up in bed than endure the humiliation of begging for the pity of her peers.

The Depiction of Depression

Michael Roffman, Consequence of Sound: “To date, depression has never felt so delicate and hypnotic on film.”

Kristy Puchko, Cinema Blend: “This is not the kind of depression that Hollywood likes to sell complete with gnashing of teeth and pained wails. It’s quieter, more about a lack of verve and oppressive melancholy. It’s true to life, and at times hard to watch. But every step of the way, Cotillard nails this tricky performance.”

The Trailer

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “As a parable on karma, capitalism and Darwinian corporate politics, ‘Two Days, One Night’ can often feel brutal. As a testament to connection, service, sacrifice and self-worth, it’s a soaring, heart-rending hymn.”