The marketing behind Smile was great. Placing people at sporting events who have to smile for hours on end is both hilarious and creepy. It was a great marketing campaign to draw up enough interest in a movie that fails to live up to it. That’s a shame, because I was really anticiapting this movie. And since the movie has a great opening, I was really hoping it would be better but at nearly two hours, it drags as it loads on the cliches and tropes you’ve seen in other movies. (There will be spoilers ahead.)
The movie begins at a hospital where a stressed overworked psychiatrist Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) is told to meet with a 26-year-old Ph. D. student Laura Weaver (Caitlin Stasey) who’s been brought in hysterical and screaming. Laura says she’s seeing people including those of her dead relatives but knows they’re not real. She looks behind Rose and freaks out her body convulsing in a seizure. Rose rushes to call for emergency but when she turns back around, Laura is standing upright looking at her with a smile on her face. (Stasey’s smiling face is used in the movie’s poster.) And then she uses a shard from a broken flower pot to cut her own throat as Rose watches in horror.
It’s a great opening sequence and as the viewer, you’re eager to see what happens next. Unfortunately, from here on out, the movie’s plot borrows a lot from The Happening, Bird Box, It Follows and The Ring or the Japanese Ringu. One of the police detectives investigating the case is her ex, Joel (Kyle Gallner), who shows more concern for her than her fiance, Trevor (Jesse T. Usher), who from the minute he appears on screen seems to not give a damn that she just watched a person kill herself a few hours earlier. So, we have the Douchebag Boyfriend Trope.
Then, we meet the Asshole Relatives Trope. Rose and Trevor go to dinner with her sister, Holly (Gillian Zinser) and her brother-in-law, Greg (Nick Arapoglou) who criticize her for the audacity of being a doctor who cares more about her patients’ well-being than her bank account. Rose seems to have a nice enough house for a young doctor as Bacon is only 30 but looks younger. And she’s got a nice kitty-cat who greets her when she comes. (FYI, don’t get too attached to the cat whose name is Mustache but should’ve been called Obligatory Pet That Is Killed Off For Schock Value).
Assholes Holly and Greg want Rose to attend the birthday party of their son, her nephew on the upcoming Saturday or at least use some of her doctor money to buy him a gift. (Now, if you were a gambling person and you had anticipated something bad is going to happen at the birthday party involving the cat in some way, you’d walk away with the jackpot winnings.) Initially unsure of attending because, you know, she’s working, her boss, Dr. Morgan Desai (Kal Penn in a thankless role) gives her a week off of work. You see, Rose freaks out when she sees another mental patient, Carl Renken (Jack Sochet) smiling while sitting upright in his bed.
Of course, we go through the whole gaslighting trope of is she crazy or is she stressed plot point where every woman protagonist in these roles must constantly tell people she’s not crazy when she keeps doing things that make her crazy. (Believe me the birthday party is a doozy. There’s always a scene where the woman protagonist loses it at a social gathering. In Don’t Worry Darling, it was at a dinner party. Here it’s at a birthday party.) Trevor basically gives up on her because he wants her to be normal. To say they have no chemistry together would be an understatement. It’s like Bacon and Usher met each other for the first time on the day of filming. Joel seems to still show some concern for her so she turns to him even though Gallner doesn’t have the best track record for these movies (Red State, Jennifer’s Body, that Nightmare on Elm Street remake.)
We come to find out that Rose and Holly’s mother (Dora Kiss) was abusive and mentally ill and died of a drug overdose. Rose has resented Holly, who was older, for always being away whenever she had the chance. They have an offer to sell the dilapidated house and property which I think is part of the friction because Rose seems hesitant to sell. (And if you wanted to let it ride and bet the lot that the climax ends at the house, you’d be eating filet mignons for a month if not the rest of the year.)
Rose and Joel discover that Laura’s professor was smiling at him before he killed himself and this leads them on a Chandlerseque way of tracking down previous cases as it seems this passes between people who witness it every four days or so. And time is running out for Rose. It’s obvious something is wrong with Rose before she even meets Laura. She even has her own therapist Dr. Madeline Northcutt (Robin Weigert) and she is struggling from the post-traumatic stress disorder of discovering of her dead mother overdosed. This explains why Joel, a detective, would be more suited a partner than Trevor and a better explanation of why they’re no longer together.
Stressed and overwooked, Rose doesn’t know if she’s hallucinating or if as Laura says, she’s seeing this entity appearing to her as people she knows. Does the entity feed on people suffering for a trauma? Does it know how to hunt its next victim? This might have been more interesting if it had been further developed. But once we begin to know more, you can’t help but groan that it all sounds familar.
This is the debut feature movie by Parker Finn who made an 11-minute short movie called Laura Can’t Sleep, featuring Stasey and Lew Temple. The short was a hit on the festival circuit and Paramount Pictures gave him a deal in 2020 to adapt it. Whether he had a whole script ready or decided to bang one out once the deal was set is uncertain, it’s a shame he couldn’t avoid the cliches. It was rumored to just streamed on Paramount Plus but good test screenings led to a theatrical release where the movie has made over $210 million worldwide in under two months while only costing $17 million. I’m sure a sequel is probably already in the planning stages.
As for Bacon, she does what she can with the role, even if it’s mostly a reaction role. The daughter of Hollywood couple Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, she does make us care for her character. She’s dealing with a huge trauma in her life that no one has really taken seriously, including her. It’s also reminds me of The Babadook where the entity was more about the stages of grief. There was a better story somewhere that Finn is trying to show us. He may still surprise us if he continues making psychological horror/thrillers, but having a huge hit like this at the box office on your first movie is still impressive.
What do you think? Please comment.