“I Smile Back” doesn’t quite smile back — it’s a very real, very dark look at just how bad things can get when you’re dealing with depression, even when your life may seem perfect. Sarah Silverman stars in her most serious screen role to date, taking her character Laney through the pitfalls of disillusionment and the recklessness that follows.
What’s your film about, in 140 characters or less?
Laney is a wife and devoted mother of two adorable children, but her perfect world is a façade, and reckless compulsion puts it all at risk.
Now, what’s it REALLY about?
Laney, played by the extremely talented Sarah Silverman, is an attractive, intelligent woman who is tormented by some very complex personal demons. “I Smile Back” is about how this character came to be emotionally and psychologically broken, and how hard it is for a person like that, particularly someone with as big a heart as Laney, to play a part in breaking other people.
Tell us briefly about yourself.
I grew up in NYC, and moved to Los Angeles five years ago. I stared out in my early 20’s working on sets in pretty much every capacity, which was a great education for me. My family is from Memphis, Tennessee so I am an amateur BBQ aficionado. I also teach directing in the graduate school of cinematic arts at USC. This is starting to sound like an online dating profile.
What was the biggest challenge in completing this film?
Well let’s see… Snow storms, sub zero temperatures, not enough time, extremely complex dramatic material, and more than a little pressure I put on myself to honor the source material (the novel written by Amy Koppelman, which she adapted into a screenplay with Paige Dylan). It took everything from everyone to make this film. On set producer Michael Harrop moved mountains to get it done. We were so focused on getting it right, very often with our backs up against the wall. It was intense. Godot could have showed up and I don’t anyone would have noticed.
What do you want Sundance audience to take away from your film?
When Robin Williams passed away his wife, Susan Schneider, issued a statement. It was very short, and it ended with this: “It is our hope in the wake of Robin’s tragic passing, that others will find the strength to seek care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing so they may feel less afraid.” It struck me because to me that is what I would like audiences to take away from the film. It’s an unflinching portrait of a real life struggle. It’s the kind of story that doesn’t usually get told in the mainstream, but that touches everyone in the mainstream, either through a friend or a family member.
Are there any films that inspired you?
So many. Here’s a handful that I deeply love, and that inspired me in making I Smile Back: The Celebration, Belle De Jour, Interiors, Y Tu Mama Tambien. Movies about flawed, human people in extraordinary psychological situations.
What’s next for you?
Got a couple of things brewing: I’m developing a feature with producer Mary Jane Skalski and writer David Brind, my partners from Dare, my first feature (Sundance Dramatic Competition 09), and I also co-wrote a feature comedy with my some friends that I’m really excited about. If any producers are reading this, I’m always happy to read a script too.
What cameras did you shoot on?
Did you crowdfund?
Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2015 festival. Click here for more profiles.