Smashed is a fine, clear-eyed look at addiction and recovery, and avoids many of the overly sentimental pitfalls of films like this. It also takes a different look at the addict. In a film like Flight, the alcoholic character is resistant to treatment, denying there is a problem. But in Smashed, the character wants treatment, but has to deal with the enablers around her.
The film was directed by James Ponsoldt and written by him and Susan Burke. I appreciated its direct approach toward the main character, Kate,who is brilliantly played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She is a first-grade teacher who sips beer while showering in the morning and in the parking lot takes a swig of whiskey from a flask. She also parties every night with her husband (Aaron Paul), who doesn’t see any problems. But Winstead does see a problem, after a series of incidents.
First, she throws up in front of her class. They ask if she’s pregnant, and she sees a great cover up. But this gets back to her co-workers, primarily the principal (Megan Mullaly), and Winstead has to carry on the ruse, even enduring a baby shower. The vice-principal (Nick Offerman), confides that he knows she drinks, and that he is in AA.
Then Winstead ends up awakening on two consecutive mornings, outside, not knowing where she is. She takes up Offerman’s offer and enters AA, finding a sponsor (Octavia Spencer). This part of the film is rushed–we don’t see her going through any physical difficulties quitting. Did she just stop and everything was fine? No shakes, no hallucinations? It made it seem like sitting on a folding chair drinking warm coffee was enough to quit.
But when she gets sober, problems with Paul start. He’s still living it up, and she seems like a drag in comparison. He says she’s a different person, and this is ostensibly true–the relationship seems doomed. Her mother (Mary Kay Place), whom she seldom sees, is also amazed at her sobriety, even offering her a bloody mary when she asks for water.
So many films end with a character telling their story in an AA meeting, so it’s nice to see what happens after that, especially with the people who the recovering addict knew as a drinker.
Smashed wouldn’t be half the movie it was, though, without Winstead. There is nothing in her career that has indicated she has these kind of chops. Perhaps the best scene (her Oscar clip, if she gets nominated) would be one when she tries to buy booze in a convenience store and ends up stealing a bottle, after pissing on the floor. Another great scene, sober, is when Offerman makes a hilariously inappropriate pass on her.
Smashed is a spare film–it’s under 80 minutes–but it doesn’t lack for emotional impact. It’s very well done.
My grade for Smashed: A-.