Mental illness or drug addiction is a severe disease that can be beaten only by those whose minds are much stronger than the pain they experience somewhere deep inside. The story being told in I SMILE BACK is not that easy to swallow for many reasons: one of them is because the story is extremely painful to watch, and the second one is the performances delivered by lead cast makes it unbearable to handle film throughout. And that from artistic perspective is certainly a great deal. Sarah Silverman portrays Laney, a woman whose intention was not to destroy her family and ruin her life, but the problems and the struggles she must go through distances her from her loved ones and puts her into more trouble that unfortunately can’t be undone.
Adam Salky, who directs the film, puts all the required pieces together making I SMILE BACK one of the most realistic films touching upon not only the subjects of drug addiction or mental illness, but also the family which always becomes the first victim of their family member, whose mental illness destroys everything they built for years.
Having said that, I am pleased to present the interview of Adam Salky, with whom I had great pleasure talking about his film over the phone. And here is what I got for you to read.
MovieMovesMe: “I Smile Back” is a moving, dark and deep movie about someone who simply tuned herself into self-destruction. How was it for you to study the script and start building the film scene by scene?
Adam Salky: Well, when I first read the screenplay, I was incredibly moved by it. As you have mentioned, this movie is dark, and it is. It’s very complex about the character Laney Brook, and the complex struggle she goes through. And I was very moved by it. I thought it was challenging and universal story, something that everyone has experienced either through friend or a family member. And certainly I have felt very strongly that I need to tell this story. But getting back to your question, it can be very challenging to direct a film about very complex emotional and psychological subject matter. And it can be challenging to not let that subject matter also effect you while you make this film. And the way I approached that just to stay very focused and you know I dive in making a film. So that I could focus to make a film and sort of keeping an emotional and psychological affect of telling the story at a day.
MovieMovesMe: There is some dark magic behind Bruce’s words that he wishes Laney every morning to “rise and shine”. However, the only thing Laney does is rise but not above the troubles. It sounds like this one of the things that triggers in her to fall into depression and surround herself with drugs.
Adam Salky: Well, you know, it was based on a novel also called “I Smile Back”. And it’s really a beautiful book. And we really stay truthful to the novel in so many way. One of the way was that a novel is not specifically diagnoses Laney’s mental illness. And It is something that Paige Dylan and I we were careful not to specifically identify the exact mental illness that Laney struggle with. The thing is so difficult to actually diagnose. We really just wanted to portray this woman, and not specifically about this diagnosis. Laney is really struggling with how she became to be broken emotionally and psychologically as a person. I don’t want to give too much away much of the movie. She is dealing with some trauma from very early of her life with her father. She is kind of stuck in that place and stuck in that trauma. And a lot of the effect of that are still driving her till her present day to do self-destructing things. So she is still caught up in some childhood trauma.
MovieMovesMe: Can you talk about your collaboration with Josh Charles and Sarah Silverman and the approach you took towards their characters they were about to perform?
Adam Salky: To answer to your question, I had a very close collaboration with Sarah and Josh and with all other actors on the film. And I worked with them differently. Every actor is different. So much about directing is trying to figure it out how you’re going to work with that individual performer. For Josh, he really comes from dramatic acting background and has also directed quite a bit. With Josh it was really about discussing what drives the character almost to drama-surgical sense. And so that was to keep the family together. That was what Bruce really desired deep down. And all of my discussion with Josh were really how that drive is manifesting itself in each particular scene. With Sarah, it was a little different. We also spoke about what broke the character which for me was to basically destroy this very complex entertain Laney constantly stealing by loving her family. Sometimes she destroys it through her affair, or destroy it through substances. So we constantly talked about that, and also talking before we shoot the scene, and during each scene to make. So it was really strong collaboration with the actors.
MovieMovesMe: I wonder how you would describe Bruce’s personality and his approach to fix the family issue, especially after seeing the last scene?
Adam Salky: I just spoke a little bit about the kind of things Josh and I spoke about when we were talking about the character Bruce. That was a central idea, Bruce is a guy who wants to keep the family together. Even though when Laney is going to sense throughout the story Bruce is willing to employ all kind of things in order to keep the family together. And sometime that means ignoring certain things she is doing. Sometimes, that means to be in denial of certain things she is doing. Because to accept them and to acknowledge them will be to accept that something is too painful and destructive to his family. At the end, without giving too much away, there does come a moment where that desire in Bruce to keep the family is going to be tested to the limit of what he even thought possible.
MovieMovesMe: What do you think is the moral story of I Smile Back that must make the viewer to not disregard the issue being unfolded in the film?
Adam Salky: You know, I never thought about I Smile back as necessarily having a moral to it. And I don’t know that, at least, from my point of view that all movies necessarily do have to have a moral to it. To me it was really was about bearing witness to this woman who has something in her as she can’t control. And that is destructive to life as she wanted to be. And in in bearing witness to that I do think there is an opportunity for people who are struggling with some of the same things or the family members or friends: mental illness and addiction that they can be less afraid in their own struggle because their story is being told or a part of their story in the film.