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?”

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.”

Sep 27

“Thanks for Sharing”: Dramedy About Sex Addiction Recovery

About the new film Thanks for Sharing, from sex addiction expert Robert Weiss, LCSW, founder of The Sexual Recovery Institute (on The Huffington Post):

Thanks for Sharing is a meaningful and important film in three key ways. First, it is a well-written, well-acted, entertaining movie. Second, it is an accurate portrayal of the trials, tribulations, and joys of sex addiction recovery. Third, it is a film that can and hopefully will educate both active sex addicts and the general public about the nature (and recovery path) of a heretofore mostly misunderstood disease. Perhaps the most telling thought in this regard comes from an associate of mine — a recovering sex addict with more than a decade of sobriety. He saw the movie with a non-addicted friend who has long questioned the existence of sex addiction, despite knowledge of my associate’s troublesome sexual history. After the movie the non-addict friend said two things:

  1. I think I finally get it. Sex really can be an addiction.
  2. Is there a 12-step program for non-addicts? Because if there is, I’d really like to go.

In Thanks for Sharing the three main characters—Adam (Mark Ruffalo), Mike (Tim Robbins), and Neil (Josh Gad)—are in three different phases of participation in Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA). Five years into recovery, Adam has Mike as a sponsor, a guy who’s quick with an SAA aphorism but has conflicted relationships with his wife (Joely Richardson) and son Danny (Patrick Fugit), whose own addiction has been drugs. Adam sponsors the resistant, legally mandated Neil.

It is in fact much more common for men to attend SAA than women, so the fact that there’s only one female group member rings true. Like Neil, Dede (Alecia Moore) is a relative newcomer to SAA. And, by the way, Moore is otherwise known as the singer Pink, and she’s received positive reviews for her role.

Each addict has his/her struggles, but critics seem to focus the most on the emerging romantic relationship between Adam and Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow), who’s already had a bad experience with an addict, an alcoholic partner. Adam thus fails initially to admit his addiction, a dishonest and unhealthy way for a member of SAA to go.

In addition to Adam and Phoebe, another interpersonal thread is the friendship that emerges between Neil and Dede, who’s previously only been able to relate to men via sex. The opinion of Linda Holmes, NPR, echoes that of several other reviewers as well:

…I think the most pleasant surprise is the friendship between the characters played by Josh Gad and Pink. This is the story that underscores the importance of giving a rip about someone besides yourself if you’re ever going to recover from anything. At first, the Gad character is so sketchy…that it seems like he might be irredeemable, but there’s a lot of ground to cover — as there is for all these characters.

What Are Some of the Things We Learn About Sex Addiction?

It’s a real condition for many, not an excuse for inappropriate behavior.

In the film the guys call recovery the daily struggle to “quit [the proverbial] crack while the pipe’s attached to your body.”

Robert Weiss, The Huffington Post, reports that two key sexual recovery books are seen in the film, Patrick Carnes‘s Out of the Shadows and A Gentle Path through the Twelve Steps.

Although generally giving a favorable critique, Weiss adds:

My sole gripe, and it’s a very small gripe, is that the concept of ‘sexual sobriety’ is not adequately explained. I worry that viewers potentially interested in sexual recovery for themselves will walk away thinking that being sexually sober means they can never have sex again, with themselves or anyone else. And in reality that is not the case. Sexual sobriety differs for every person, and it does not equate to an elimination of sexuality. Instead, sexual sobriety is about finding ways to be sexual that are life and relationship affirming. Yes, compulsive and problematic sexual behaviors must be eliminated, but the remainder of the wide-open sexual universe remains in play. Sexual recovery is not a death-knell for sex, just as recovery from compulsive eating does not involve starving oneself to death.

Andrew Schenker, Slant: “The film shrewdly expands its scope by linking sex addiction with other forms of addiction, understanding the addictive personality to be not easily compartmentalized into a single category. Thus Mike is also an alcoholic, Neil a compulsive eater, and Dede is simultaneously attending a meeting for drug addicts.”