I've always been a huge fan of Sarah Silverman. I have her tv show on DVD, as well as "Jesus is Magic" (stand up). I watch all her specials and pretty much anything she's been involved in. I have her memoir "The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee" in hardback and audio. I really believe that everything she does is magic - and if it's not - then it's someone else's fault.
I could easily say the same for this movie - although Sarah herself gives an awesome performance. (She has received many rave reviews for her stunning performance.) Before I go into my review, here's the skinny:
Laney Brooks (Silverman) is on a downwards spiral. Living a charmed life in upper middle class New York, with her loving husband Bruce (Josh Charles) and their two adorable children. On the surface - she appears to be happy doing the housewife routine but on closer inspection, she's miserable and depressed. She’s snorting cocaine, drinking and screwing around - in order to escape her issues with her father. (Or so we assume - as it's never fully explained as to why she's such a mess.)
Bruce tries (somewhat) to understand her predicament - but it's obvious that his concerns are mostly for appearances - as well as the children. As she unravels and finally crashes, he takes her to rehab - only to have her slip back into her destructive ways - on the fast track to losing everything.
The first thing I noticed was the style - which was more like a documentary or tv movie. I don't usually mind this style - if the material matches it or is in the same vein - but for a dramatic feature, I expect certain production standards - such as good lighting, cinematography etc. (This is usually not an issue for me if the story and acting is awesome.)
Lucky then, that Sarah was so mesmerizing I hardly noticed the faults (mostly minor - I'll admit.)
There are many poignant and brilliant moments. I could say "spoiler alert" but the cat's already out of the bag. Here are some:
* Laney's blank stare out of the bathroom window while she watches her husband and children playing in the yard. This is followed by her sitting down on the toilet to snort some coke - almost naked - then staring at her breasts in the mirror.
* Coming to her son at night after he's had a nightmare about her acting strange. He says he feels she is distant and won't be there for him - especially seeing as she was dead in the dream.
* After an argument with a school official (for dropping her kids off without a school I.D.) she rages in the car.
* She draws the children's names with crayons on her kids school lunch bags.
* After snorting coke, she masturbates on the floor using one of the kids teddy bears (face down) - then rolls onto her back and tries to stifle her tears, before her husband finds her freaking out.
* Her son develops a nervous tick (well acted!)
* After getting out of rehab, she has to sit and watch everyone drinking at a party. She slips (after her lover announces that his wife is pregnant) and insults an older man with a young trophy wife.
* She tracks down her father - who has married again and has a young daughter with a perfect bedroom - filled with wonderful dolls and toys. Laney takes one of the small dolls from the dollhouse - which is like a small triumph and payback for a father who remained absent during her life. (It so happens to be the father doll.)
* The children catch her in the bathroom snorting. Her nose bleeds and the husband has had enough.
Sarah Silverman has always been a brave performer - willing to go the extra mile and tread where most others wouldn't dare. I found her performance to be a revelation and my appreciation for her skyrocketed. It wasn't just the raw sex scenes and moments of rage, depression and guilt - it was the amazing level of the understanding of her character which floored me.
Usually a character like this is hard-pushed to be able to project an aura of helplessness and sympathy/empathy. As a mother - I was a little horrified with her antics - but I couldn't help taking her side. Whether it was due to the fact that she seemed trapped (even though she made the decision to become a wife and mother - living a life most would love to live) or the fact that her husband seemed to view her in a one dimensional - cardboard cutout kind of way.
It's true - he had to protect the children from her wild antics - but his love for her seemed shallow and his understanding of her and her problems were close to zero. I didn't find him to be a sympathetic character at all - in regards to his relationship with his wife. (He tells her that he'd marry her 100 times - but that seems to dissipate quickly. He also asks her if she'd rather be insane - in terms of stopping the substance abuse - and tells her that he just wants her to be happy, which is ironic as it's obvious he doesn't know what "happy" means for her. To him - it's behaving herself.)
Her lover was also a disappointment - as he too fails to see her as a full blown human being.
In the beginning, you get a sense that the tension is building (reminiscent of Michael Douglas' performance in "Falling Down") - but then it somehow loses it's way. The main story arc was blurred and the ending seemed rushed and not well thought out.
When Laney is in rehab, the progression is rushed and the sessions she has with her therapist are merely bumper-sticker, cornflake-packet revelations. I wanted to see her dig deep and devolve (then evolve back into a "normal" and happy person) - which is what good therapy should do. I wanted to see a Primal Scream moment - where all would be revealed.
It was not to be - and the moment where the family all dance together in the kitchen after she gets back home is schmaltzy at best.
The movie goes right for the Hallmark heart strings - sometimes formulaic and striving for grittiness without true grit. Actually - the only grit that I saw was from the wonderful acting done by Sarah Silverman. For her performance alone I recommend this movie.
I don't want to be cruel, though. So much more could've been achieved if they'd put more thought into it. (Not that I'm an expert!) One thing I did like about the ending was that - in life - things sometimes don't work out. I didn't want everything to be resolved in a perfect nutshell, but I did expect a story with true revelations and a "grittier" atmosphere - even though Sarah did an amazing job in that department.
I loved her conversation with her son after he took a bath. She tells him to dry his balls so he won't get a rash. (I understand some more puritanical minds might not appreciate this - but it was an honest moment that I'm sure most parents have with their kids.)
I also loved how she hugs the stray dog they took in at the end - like they were two lost souls who finally found each other. Sarah Silverman was brilliant - the movie not so much. She saved it with her awesome performance. Whether it was telling the teacher to go fuck themselves, losing it and speeding through the intersection or making the kids lunches after being bashed by another lover she picked up in a bar - Sarah shines in this role - illuminating the movie enough to be worth watching again, if only for her brilliant skills as an actress.
I would give the movie 3 stars (or less) if any other actress portrayed this role (depending on who?) - which means that I really would only give it two stars - as a movie in and of itself. I give Sarah's performance 5+ stars and hope that it's a vehicle for her getting more juicy roles!