Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Nick Offerman
You may like this if you liked: Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck, 2006), Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, 2008), Flight (Robert Zemeckis, 2012)
Married couple Kate (Winstead) and Charlie (Paul) live a happily married life that involves drinking a lot of alcohol on a daily basis. Kate works as a primary school teacher (well, the American equivalent) and when she vomits in front of her class after a night of heavy drinking, some of the children ask if she is pregnant, to which her immediate reaction is to answer yes. This sets off a chain of events where Kate realises it is time to put an end to the drinking as she now knows it is getting out of control. Thanks to the help of a fellow teacher she joins a support group. However, as she changes due to sobriety, those around her do not which puts pressure on her marriage and other aspects of her life especially as she has to live with lying about being ‘pregnant’.
I have always been aware of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, she basically appears as the eye candy and never really has to act. I am genuinely pleased to say that she is a revelation here, providing an incredible performance as the alcoholic protagonist Kate. Her committed performance provides a protagonist who we hate, love and can relate to. She is naturally extremely flawed due to her weakness, which is an addiction to alcohol but because of the brutally honest script and her incredibly committed performance I found this to be a deeply involving film.
Smashed is a film that wears its heart on its sleeve, and its raw and naturalistic approach provides a very effective depiction of a depressingly over familiar subject. There are scenes that are genuinely embarrassing to watch, but it is the brutal honesty of this film that makes it such an involving and memorable watch.
Not only is this a character study of the inevitable bad effects of addiction, but also a relationship study. The relationship between Kate and Charlie (Aaron Paul also giving a subtle but excellent performance) immediately disintegrates as one goes sober and the other carries on drinking. As this develops there are many poignant questions posed, the film does not necessarily provide the answers to all of them, but many of us can certainly relate to the question and provide our own answer.
Unfortunately the raw approach and running time of only around 80 minutes does not completely work in my view. The script does feel too raw at times and could have done with a couple of rewrites to make it feel a more complete drama. I personally found her lying about being pregnant a little contrived and unbelievable. Though this pretty much sets the entire plot in motion, I find it hard not to believe that Kate would have said she was ill with a bug or food poisoning. This for me ruined the film a little and I feel with a few rewrites the same story could have been achieved without this slightly contrived and extremely convenient plot development.
Due to the running time, writer/director James Ponsoldt and co writer Susan Burke had at least another 30 minutes at their disposal to make this a more complete and more involving drama. I know this film had pretty much no budget, and what has been achieved is extremely commendable, but a few rewrites and this could have been even better. Though of course over editing or more studio influence may dilute the raw emotion, but if handled correctly this could have been a modern classic.
Smashed is a genuine, raw and honest drama about a subject that is very familiar but surprisingly taboo. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a revelation and Aaron Paul is subtle but very effective, a few rewrites on the script could have elevated this to a great rather than good drama. However, still a genuinely involving watch.