Directed by: James Ponsoldt Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Nick Offerman, Octavia Spencer Running Time: 1 hr 25 mins Rating: R Release Date: October 19, 2012 (Chicago)
PLOT: School teacher Kate (Winstead) hits rock bottom with her alcohol addiction and decides to get sober with Alcoholics Anonymous.
WHO'S IT FOR? Those who are willing to experience a story about the lighter side of addiction. Or, those who enjoy seeing talent (Winstead) rise within one movie.
More fun to witness than last year's Shame, Smashed is an indie addiction comedy about someone, in this case an elementary school teacher named Kate, who loves drinking too much. Before she even gets to work, she has had at least two big drinks, including a flask sip in the school parking lot. While we do see her having fun (as supported by her equally drunk husband, Charlie [Paul]) we also get the sense that her recklessness is indeed heading towards dangerous territory. Indeed, some of the emotions that motivate the experience of watching this story is the worry we feel for Kate, as she seems one night away from waking up in a very wrong place.
The personal film is certainly anchored by a captivating lead performance by Winstead, whose natural charisma is muscular enough to carry the 98% of the screen time that we see her. With the camera constantly close to her, creating a fittingly claustrophobic audience participation to this intimate story, we have nowhere else to look but at Winstead, her very Hollywood-friendly face structuring, and the bizarre, funny, but ultimately anxious events that happen to her character. We enjoy getting close to this Kate, and this big turning point that is happening to her at this point in her life, and most of all, we definitely worry about her.
Working with Aaron Paul (of AMC's "Breaking Bad"), the two create excellent chemistry, allowing us to perceive as to why these two would get along so well, and subsequently why their personalities would be so polarized in different circumstances. The two construct a disturbing visual of a marriage borne from young naivety, as based on the false identities they have created with the help of their true love, alcohol. The final two scenes with this couple, including a drunken hailstorm from one of the characters, make Smashed worth a look alone, as it proves the movie to be about more than one relationship between Kate and certain bad influences.
Other supporting actors are used to less effect, but do create a more diverse picture of those who are addicted. In the dry masculine way we expect to see him, Nick Offerman plays an unsuspecting member of AA, whose own affection towards Kate seems like an unnecessary component. Octavia Spencer, in a role that was first seen at Sundance last January while she was campaigning for The Help, is a small effective component to the positive aspects of the movie, as Kate's AA sponsor.
Exploring this topic with both appreciation for drinking shenanigans and the positive influence of Alcoholics Anonymous, Smashed can't cleanly use both of these powerful forces without feeling like they cancel each other out. Sure, it is fun (and funny) to watch Winstead and Paul goof around drunk, riding their bikes, or even just hanging out, but the other half of Smashed's brain, which sees sobriety as the answer, doesn't support these actions. It's an admirable attempt by the script to attempt to promote both sides, but Smashed isn't able to juggle these two concepts without its losing its focus to a contradictory mindset.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10