Every so often, Hollywood takes a look at the darker side of booze. Quite often, heavy drinking and the stupidity that follows is played up for laughs, usually among teenagers or college kids, who can't lay off that next shot as it'll have them throwing up on the hot girl or taking a leak in the middle of the street or whatever. Don't get me wrong... I'm not trying to poop on the party, as I certainly think there is a place for humor built around the premise of binge drinking. However, as hilarious as these dumb shenanigans brought on by intoxication can be, that reliance on alcohol can be equally heart-wrenching in a dramatic setting, where we're watching it send someone's life into a downward spiral. What we're told is that alcoholism is a disease, and in SMASHED, we watch it take hold of Mary Elizabeth Winstead and slowly but surely destroy her life as she deals with her own irresponsibility, an enabling husband and mother, denial, rationalization and tons of out-of-control behavior that is brought on the second the drinks start flowing.
Winstead plays Kate, a first grade teacher with a serious drinking problem. I can understand maybe taking a swig of something before having to go in every day to deal with 30 screaming children, but imbibing some libations off her trusty flask sidekick is the least of her problems. This is a woman who can be easily convinced to smoke crack with a crackhead in need of a ride upon tipsily leaving a bar to drive home under the influence. Talk about doubling down on the bad decisions, and unfortunately for her, it's only going to get worse. Being so hungover that you throw up in front of your class one morning and then, to cover it up, lie about being pregnant poses its own set of problems, and it's not like she's getting any help combatting her destructive behavior from her husband. Charlie, played by BREAKING BAD's Aaron Paul, can't lay off the drinks either. He's not nearly as bad as his wife, but the type of support an alcoholic needs in order to address their problem isn't going to come from another active alcoholic. As a result, we're left to watch the constant struggle by Kate to combat this illness that threatens her marriage, her job and, at times, her life as everything she's come to think and know and do has become fueled by alcohol.
Winstead is an emotional powerhouse here in James Ponsoldt's film. There's nothing uplifting about watching someone's life deteriorate with each pour of the bottle, and Winstead demolishes her typical cuteness accordingly as Kate's circumstances only get worse. This is the girl who probably started out as fun after a few drinks and has become the angry and unstable drunk who'll do anything including shoplifting in order to score one more drop. That's how badly she has come to need it, transforming from embarrassing to scary. Winstead is able to draw us into Kate's struggle with addiction and her crusade for sobriety, even if it means leaving behind the only things she knows at this point in her life. Strong supporting players Nick Offerman (PARKS AND RECREATION's Ron Swanson) and Octavia Spencer (Oscar winner for THE HELP) make up her support group, in helping Kate transition from her demons to a healthier, happier and safer way of life that isn't without its confrontational relapses. The road to recovery is hardly a smooth one, and Winstead's phenomenal performance allows us to feel every bump along the way.
Paul also turns in solid work, perhaps even more impressive than Winstead's in some respects, as he's working against the Jesse Pinkman role he's become one with over the AMC series' run. Even as I waited for the film to begin, "Yeah, bitch!!" began to creep into my head. However, while there is a certain degree of likability to Paul's meth dealer/addict on the show, he's able to introduce a goofy appeal to Charlie. This isn't a character looking to hurt anyone, he just wants to have a good time. He's not a bad person with bad motivations, just a severe like of drinking. You know that Charlie loves his wife, but he's not willing to make the sacrifices necessary in order to keep what he has intact. When you add in Paul's contribution to the sad equation that makes up this marriage on the rocks, SMASHED raises the stakes of what Kate stands to lose if she can't stop drinking... and what she may have to leave behind anyway even if she does, as she changes while the world around her stays the same.
SMASHED is the riveting journey of an addict, and, while it may be painful to watch at times for its realistic glimpse at the negatives of alcohol, Winstead takes you by the hand and lets you know it's going to be okay to watch the fall, because her rise from it will be all the more rewarding. This is a solid little film bolstered by a cast more than capable of handling the seriousness of the subject matter that sobers you up really quickly to the idea that drinking can be all fun and games until someone's sadly pissing themselves.
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