By Turney Duff
I used to fantasize about being in a near-fatal car crash—a nightmarish daydream. It seemed like a solution. My imagined fate would then shift to me lying in a hospital bed unconscious with wires and beeping machines all around me. A group of people would wait in the waiting room, drink bad coffee, and wonder if I was going to make it or not. And after a few days of fighting for my life, I’d eventually pull through. It’d be a miracle.
I didn’t want to die, but I wanted you to feel as sorry for me as I felt for myself.
I thought that if something really bad happened to me, I could wipe the slate clean of all my past mistakes and conflicts. They’d seem almost trivial at that point. My new complications could become the focus. And maybe, just maybe I could finally physically feel the emotional pain that’d been swirling around in my head.
I don’t dream like that anymore. But recently I watched the film I Smile Back and it was like taking a time machine to those dark days. When the final credits started to roll I had to sit there for a moment, not to watch them, but to catch my breath. Those 85 minutes I’d spent in the darkened theater had deeply affected me.
Depression, Drugs, Destruction…I Smile Back
I Smile Back beautifully captures the destruction of depression and drugs. It masterfully layers the underbellies of addiction. And I hesitate to say this because I don’t want Sarah Silverman serving me with a restraining order, but she’s disturbingly brilliant. I loved her in this movie.
Silverman’s character, Laney Brooks, is flawed. Her list of character defects are a mile long despite the appearance of an upper-middle class suburban housewife and mother. She has a devoted loving husband, two charming kids, and a nice house in a nice neighborhood. And she has the best intentions. But then why does she continue to drink too much, do drugs, and cheat?
It’s a good question.
If you think addiction is simply when a person is addicted to a substance that equals consequences, then perhaps you won’t fully understand this film. In my experience it’s so much more convoluted than that. A common misconception about the addict or alcoholic is they drink or drug solely because they’re addicted to the substance. Yes there’s some truth to that, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle—a very, very large puzzle. And that’s what this film taps into.
When the movie starts we’re unsure of the source of Laney Brooks’ pain. And that’s exactly what it was like for me. Is the depression causing the drug use? Is the drug use creating the depression? Or perhaps it’s a combination that leaves a wake of destruction in its path. And just like Silverman’s character in the movie, I didn’t know—I still don’t know. But I continually found myself in the middle of my own chaos. I knew how a good father and boyfriend were supposed to think and act like, but I couldn’t get it together. But I always thought I could fix the problem tomorrow.
“Nobody tells you that it’s terrifying to love something so much.”
—Laney Brooks (Sarah Silverman)
For years I struggled with addiction and depression which resulted in a lot of ruin. For an outside observer, my behavior probably seemed callous and self-sabotaging. It appeared like I was just another drug-addicted loser. And in some ways they’d be right. I was out of control, I couldn’t stop, and consequences were no longer part of my thought process. Like I said, I was dreaming of car wrecks. I wanted to get caught, but I didn’t want to get caught. I wanted to use drugs, but I didn’t want to use drugs. The only thing I knew for certain was that I deserved to be punished.
Eventually I left the theater after all of the credits rolled. I walked to my car still unsure of how I felt. My entire drive home I kept thinking about the movie. I was grateful that I no longer lived like that and desperately wanted to talk to another sober person.
The film, written by Amy Koppelman and Paige Dylan, captured the very essence of the pain associated with depression and drugs. It was so powerful it felt like a “hit” and an antidote all in one. All it takes to appreciate I Smile Back is a tablespoon of curiosity, a pinch of empathy, and a small popcorn.
I Smile Back (Rated R by Broad Green Pictures) is in limited theater distribution and available on demand via Amazon Video.
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