‘I Smile Back’ tells story of emotional struggle
January 20, 2015
Even as he was first flipping through the pages of the screenplay, Adam Salky knew filming "I Smile Back" would present one specific challenge: How does a filmmaker adequately portray a story propelled by the internal struggle of its protagonist?
"The camera is good at showing action, but it’s not very good at showing what’s going on inside people’s minds," said Salky, director of "I Smile Back," which is competing in the U.S. Dramatic Competition of the Sundance Film Festival.
Overcoming the camera’s limitations, Salky said, requires a central performance strong enough to convey internal tumult and psychological struggles. He believes Sarah Silverman delivers just that in her first leading dramatic turn. She plays the lead role of Laney Brooks, a mother and wife battling personal demons that threaten to tear her family apart.
Salky said those who identify Silverman as only a comedic actress will be blown away by the emotional and intellectual depth she brings to the role — all of it bubbling just underneath the surface.
"Sarah is a fearless performer," he said. "In everything she does, you can see that she goes for it all the way. And I saw that was no different here, even though she’s known for comedy. It’s a role I think a lot of dramatic actresses would have thought twice about playing but Sarah was all-in. She gave it everything and I can’t wait for the world to see the results."
Complimenting Silverman’s performance is a talented supporting cast, Salky said. Josh Charles, who plays Brooks’ husband, adds gravitas to his character, one that provides stability among the emotional tumult.
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"He was a rock for us, and he was a rock in the film," Salky said. "He gives the story this solid, heartfelt center in the middle of all of this craziness going around him. Working with him was an amazing experience for me."
Amplifying the film’s emotional punch is Thomas Sadoski, whose character’s duplicitous actions with his wife and friends give him an unnerving edge.
"Tommy gives this amazingly insightful and sensitive performance, where that character could have been one-note evil," Salky said. "But with Tommy, it’s a very in-depth, passionate portrayal of a guy who has his own issues and faults and struggles."
Adapted from a novel of the same name by Amy Koppelman, "I Smile Back" is a story that will connect with all audiences, regardless of personal backgrounds, Salky said.
"It’s just a very profoundly human and universal story," Salky said. "I feel that it’s a story that touches everyone through family or friends but it’s rarely told."
Accurately portraying a story whose characters bristle with emotional depth was made easier by having Koppelman and Paige Dylan, who co-wrote the screenplay, on set throughout filming, Salky said. Drawing on their knowledge of the characters allowed him and the actors to dig more deeply into them.
"That was crucial," Salky said. "It deepens my understanding of the material at the very early stages, then later on as we’re shooting, it allows me to return to [Koppelman] and use her as a touchstone: ‘Is this honest to what you set out to create?’"
"I Smile Back" is being screened in the Sundance Film Festival’s U.S. Dramatic Competition. It will be shown:
Sunday, Jan. 25, at 8:30 p.m. at Library Center Theatre
Tuesday, Jan. 27, at 11:30 a.m. at The Marc
Thursday, Jan. 29, at 3 p.m. at Broadway Centre Cinema 6
Friday, Jan. 30, at 3:30 at Eccles Theatre
Saturday, Jan. 31, at 9 a.m. at Temple Theatre