[Review] – Smashed

25 Oct

Title: Smashed
Year: 2012
Director: James Ponsoldt
Writers: James Ponsoldt and Susan Burke
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Octavia Spencer, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Mary Kay Place
MPAA Rating: R, alcohol abuse, language, some sexual content and brief drug use
Runtime: 85 min
IMDb Rating: 6.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
Metacritic: 73

Smashed is a film that I had been very interested in checking out ever since it came out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Excellence in Independent Film Producing and where the buzz surrounding the lead performance from Mary Elizabeth Winstead was tracking pretty high. Well, Sony Pictures Classics picked up the distribution rights and now we can all finally see it and make up our own minds. As for me, I was pretty blown away by the film, I thought it achieved greatness often and it all started with the performance from Ms. Winstead, who’s been a favorite of mine for a few years now and finally has the breakout role that should bring her great things.

The film is this dramedy that revolves around Ms. Winstead’s Kate and Aaron Paul‘s Charlie, a young married couple who bond over their shared love of having a good time, which usually means listening to music and just laughing it off and which always involves more than their fair share of drinking, of getting smashed. However Kate realizes it’s all getting a bit out of control and jeopardizing her role as a teacher and decides to sober up. So we’ll follow Kate down the hard path of sobriety, down a path that sees her facing her troubled relationship with her mother, facing the lies she’s been spinning at work for a while now and facing her own marriage, which maybe wasn’t built on love as much as it was on a shared love for booze.

I really loved the fact that this was a film that was indeed about drinking, about the great highs and the horrible lows of addiction and about what it does to your level of commitment but it never really felt depressing, which is what so many films like it do. This is a film that’s still serious about the topic at hand, that’s still very affecting as it goes down this role of addiction and the hard recovery process but that still knows to be funny. I’m not saying you’ll laugh your ass off, because Smashed is still very sad, but I liked that it didn’t go all out on that.

It also didn’t go all out on the fact that it was a movie about addiction and sobering up. You get a really beautiful representation of that whole ordeal because of the amazing performance from Ms. Winstead but it’s not preachy at all and, if anything, it all felt kind of low-key, beautifully subtle and not once forced or contrived, just super in tune and caring of the human emotions of these characters. That to me was what made Smashed such a brilliant study of alcoholism and the recovery of it, that it wasn’t hitting us over the head with stuff and allowed us to be affected by simply immersing ourselves in the lives of these people.

Because really, as much as Smashed is about Kate and the performance Ms. Winstead gives, and we’ll get more into that in a second, it also has really strong supporting characters and performances. Aaron Paul we all know is an amazing actor because of what he’s done in Breaking Bad which has won him two Emmy‘s so far, here he plays the other half of the relationship between two people who just keep enabling themselves and it’s brilliant to see how dark it gets when she’s trying sobriety out while he’s still fine with letting booze rule his life. When they’re at that point in their relationship, suffering and trying to be in denial about it all, they shine as actors.

Other than Mr. Paul you have other great supporting turns. Nick Offerman, from Parks and Recreation, gives a beautifully restrained performance as the vice principal of the school Kate works in, who saw her drinking in her car and could do the math after she threw up in her class and tells her she should try out AA. Octavia Spencer, recent Oscar winner for The Help, gives a lovely turn as Jenny, Kate’s sponsor. Megan Mullally, Mr. Offerman’s wife in real-life, plays the school’s principal, who doesn’t really understand what alcoholism means. These are all really fine actors delivering really solid performances.

Then there’s Ms. Winstead. I’ve had the hugest crush on her since Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but that’s not the reason why I love her performance here so much. I loved that she never once played Kate like a victim of alcoholism, instead always delivering this really smart performance in how she gets you to understand Kate and what makes her what she is, and the insistence alcoholics have of getting back on the horse the next day after a hangover and doing it all again. It’s a truly unforgettable performance that in all likelihood won’t get her an Oscar nomination but probably should.

I loved Smashed. I loved that it acknowledged that alcoholism comes with fun times, you get that with Mr. Paul’s character who continues to drink and have fun and isn’t mad at Kate for not doing the same as much as he kind of misses her as a drinking buddy, misses having that companion in the same boat who won’t pass judgement.

Smashed is an uncompromisingly powerful film bolstered by truly stunning performance. It doesn’t propose AA and sobriety as a cure, I loved that too, because it knows that sobriety brings its own set of very defined problems, you see Kate’s life probably being more difficult when she’s sober and having to deal with the mess she made of herself while under the influence. It’s that ability to really get to the bottom of some very complex emotions without hesitating that made Smashed such a stand-out to me, the realistically intense exploration of these bruised souls, played so perfectly by a wonderful ensemble led by the great (yes, great) Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

Grade: A

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