Writer-Director Natalie Peracchio’s latest offering comes as 2019’s surreal comedy, ‘Smile’, about a woman’s visit to the dentist which ends less than ideally. Emily, played by Lauren Slone, sits in the dentist’s office, visibly uncomfortable. Peracchio starts this off well. Some shaky POV shots that never rest on one object long enough and are exactly as random as the human eye leave you with no doubt that the observer is anxious. The nurse (Erika Toraya) preps Emily, and as she strives to remain composed, the nurse asks if she’s okay. Regular question, regular answer. Followed by shuffling and shifting as Emily tries to find a position where her anxiousness isn’t eating her away in her stomach.
Dentist (Anwar Molani) comes in, syringes come out and Emily is steadily climbing the distress ladder. Peracchio is great at ensuring that Emily’s anxiousness grates on our nerves like nails on a chalkboard. Until the camera overdoes it with the shakiness, that is. Ted von Bevern really goes to town with the camera, and it becomes a jarring distraction. As she waits for the anaesthesia to kick in, Emily appears to be on the verge of tears, understandably. The well-meaning nurse initiates small talk, and though she responds, it is not enough to distract her from her uneasiness. The camera goes everywhere; most of it does not make sense at this point. A 4:3 frame is a smart decision, as it locks in the viewer’s focus squarely on the subject – ironically subverted by the cinematography. Natalie Peracchio does metaphor well. Using stop motion animation, she gives substance to Emily’s fears. In the middle of the procedure, Peracchio puts her powers into play, and Emily is ‘handed’ her feelings, on a steel tray. Things have escalated for the dentist and nurse while Emily begins to regain composure.
Peracchio has used animation before to stand for metaphors, and she wields its potential by keeping it obscured. In ‘Smile’, she uses the same tactic, and it works. But though Peracchio brings a good story, ‘Smile’ is not compelling for the most part. It begins to be funny near the end, but it is perhaps a bit too little to merit a 15-minute runtime or a pleased viewer.