The movie I Smile Back, in which Sarah Silverman plays a mother suffering from depression and anxiety, comes out tomorrow. That title resonates so much with me after twice suffering from postpartum depression, but still wanting/needing/trying to present a happy, loving face to my children. Last night, I had a chance to speak on the phone to Amy Koppelman, who wrote the book and co-wrote the screenplay. Here’s what she told me…
Why did you have Sarah Silverman in mind for the movie?
While driving one afternoon, I heard Sarah on Howard Stern talking about her experiences with depression and anxiety. As a writer, a human being, you just want to be understood — and I knew she would understand the book. My goal was just to get the book in her hands; the miracle was that she opened and read it. We met up at a hotel a while later, and I said, “Would you ever think, maybe… if I wrote a screenplay…” and I knew at the time, she was just saying yes to be nice. She was like, “Sure, if it doesn’t suck.” And I thought, “Well, that bar is low, that’s perfect for me!” So I wrote it with my friend Paige.
What do you hope people take away from the movie? Depression is such an important thing to talk about.
The book was rejected 80 times, and the 81st publisher accepted it. My books don’t have redemptive endings, but I never understood the problem with that because I want the reader to have the redemptive experience. People might get a better understanding about themselves and seek the help they need, or might understand their parents better, etc. Sarah has a great line: So much about how you feel about the movie depends on your life experience, how much you have been affected by these things. People have come up to me at screenings crying.
We were speaking in front of a mental health group, and a guy kept saying, What are you giving me? What would I tell other people after seeing this movie? Because she doesn’t get better. Something overcame me, and I said, That’s not my job. It’s not my job to give you something you get to take away from it. She doesn’t get better, but the person seeing the film can get better.
What do you think your job is?
I only started to write as a place to put the sadness. When I’m writing books, I’m writing from the purest, most honest part of myself. Writing is the only time I don’t feel like I have to prove anything to anyone or make anyone feel better.
My biggest focus is women’s mental health; all three of my books deal with that. We are in the dinosaur age of understanding the minds of women — hormones, pregnancy, menstruation, menopause… Hopefully they’ll research more and be able to quantify the brain like other illnesses, like diabetes when you know how much insulin to give yourself.
Twenty-one years ago, when I had my son, I had never heard the words postpartum depression. I berated myself, why can’t you pick up your baby? They told me to stop breastfeeding, so I stopped cold turkey, and I got stuck in the bath, I literally couldn’t get out. The great thing now is that there are more resources. Hopefully by the time my daughter is ready to have kids, they’ll understand more about why the anxiety gets worse before your period, and how to treat depression and anxiety so it doesn’t overcome you.
Here’s the trailer, if you’d like to see…
Thank you so much, Amy, for all you do. I can’t wait to see the movie.