It's a joke amongst independent filmmakers, or so I've been told, that the way to have a film accepted into Sundance Film Festival is to make a comedy under 90 minutes. Sarah Silverman's I Smile Back is only 85 minutes long, but it will rip your heart out and leave you bleeding in your plush theatre chair. This isn't to say it doesn't have it's moments of levity, but these moments are far and few between. And honestly, we don't want them. The moment Silverman appears on screen, doing a line of cocaine while watching her husband play basketball with their two small kids out the bathroom window, my mouth was left eternally agape. To be quite honest, I didn't know the A Million Ways to Die in the West actor had it in her. But luckily for audiences everywhere, she proved me wrong.
Silverman plays a New Jersey housewife with a penchant for bad behavior: Cheating, drugs, drinking — and the list goes on. But like any good heroine (pardon the pun), there is a cause to her addiction: she struggles with deeply-rooted internal demons that pull her in and out of mental illness. With a loving husband and two adoring children to boot, we are left wondering if she's the bad guy after all, but if modern cinema has taught us anything, it's that convincing narratives provide flawed, human, people to root for — not heroes.
At the premiere of the film at Sundance Film Festival Sunday evening, I had the chance to speak with the comedian about her dramatic transformation and outlook on the world.
"I don't think strong women all need to be heroes," Silverman says. "It just means strong characters that aren't the girlfriend going, 'Get a life and get your act together!'"
So how did Silverman, known for her brash humor and quick wit, get involved with a project so incredibly dark? "Well I'm far too lazy to be pursuing things," she joked. "This fell into my lap, and I understood how lucky I was. Amy the writer heard me on Howard Stern, and whatever combination of words I says, she decided I was the right person for this. I had no idea this could get me a role in a dramatic film."
She added: "But we can never predict what happens in our lives, that's why we shouldn't stress out about it. They say that if you live in the past it's depression and if you live in the future it's anxiety. Gotta live in the present. I'm not a perfect person, but if you just gently remind yourself, you can deal with it. Everything will work out."
"I don't know if it's everyone's cup of tea," Silverman warns. "I think it's an excellently subjective story, portrait of a woman who your either going to have sympathy for, or none at all depending on where you're coming from.
Image: Egoli Tossell Film; Anna Klassen