Laura Smiles

2007, Movie, R, 98 mins

Review

LAURA SMILES
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Jason Ruscio's sly portrait of suburban psychosis hinges on Petra Wright's performance as mad housewife Laura, whose descent isn't entirely as it first seems.

Aspiring 24-year-old New York actress Laura meets budding novelist Chris (Kip Pardue) in a bookstore and asks him out on a date. They bond over artistic ambitions and their mutual horror of suburban tedium, and Chris asks Laura to marry him. But their apparently bright future is abruptly snatched away: After lunch at their regular diner, Chris is mowed down by a van while trying to hail a cab. He dies on the spot. Nine years later, stay-at-home mom Laura is living in suburban comfort with Mark (Mark Derwin), an insurance executive, and their 8-year-old son (Hristo Ivanov). She's seeing a therapist (Ted Hartley) because she's desperately unhappy. Their sessions justify the way Ruscio's script vaults between the past and the present, but what at first seems a too-clever-by-half gimmick quickly proves something else: Laura is clearly troubled. At a dinner party one evening, she blithely reveals that Mark's partner Bob (Rawley Valverde) is having an affair with their secretary as Bob's wife (Anne Estelle Di Maio) listens in horror. Laura has taken to treating the dull but considerate Mark with a disquieting mixture of indifference and veiled contempt, but as she reveals more, the extent to which she's been living a sordid and dangerous double life becomes apparent, as does the volatile restlessness that's been part of her makeup since she was with Chris. Or has she?

Wright's haunting performance is the anchor that keeps Ruscio's film from vanishing down a rabbit hole; her wary, self-destructive Laura always seems to be hiding something behind her dark, opaque eyes. Even when a subplot involving widower Paul (Jonathan Silverman), a family friend with a daughter the same age as Laura's son, veers into the sordidly bizarre, it's impossible to be sure what, exactly, actually happened between them. But unlike many filmmakers who try to stake out the gray area between mundane reality and sleazy surreality, Ruscio maintains a successful balance throughout and gracefully brings the two together in a delicately ambiguous final scene. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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