Director: James Ponsoldt
Writer: James Ponsoldt, Susan Burke
Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Nick Offerman, Octavia Spencer
Release date: October 12th, 2012
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Running time: 81 minutes
Best part: Winstead’s naturalistic performance.
Worst part: Underdeveloped sub-plots.
Everyone, at some point in their lives, is exposed to alcohol. Alcohol is seen as a brief escape from reality. Temptation and redemption are the focus of Smashed. It’s a film that discusses an issue that is normally left alone. Alcoholism destroys lives in multiple ways, but this film is brave enough to delve into one person’s 12 step journey. Smashed is a balanced and thought-provoking study of how anyone can change.
The film documents the rehabilitation process of Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Her marriage to Charlie (Aaron Paul) is made up of a love of sex, music and alcohol. Every day is spent drinking like a fish. Their inept decisions lead to unacceptable incidences such as bike-riding crazily through the streets. This inappropriate behaviour, however, changes when Kate lies to, and throws up in front of, her class of 3rd grade youngsters. Dealing with her increasingly offensive husband, her class, and her own internal issues, she decides to become sober. With the help of Vice-principal Dave (Nick Offerman), the 12 step program should hopefully change everything for the better. However, Charlie is actively against everything in this healing process.
Smashed promotes an alarming message about the effects of alcoholism. It’s a sweet, witty and honest tale of survival against all odds. This realistic issue is delicately emphasised as Kate pushes herself away from normality. From the beginning, the film illustrates Kate and Charlie’s fascination with the deadly substance. Whether she’s drinking in the shower or taking a swig before teaching, Kate is bluntly depicted as a troubled individual. We, however, are never allowed to judge the characters, as they must learn to accept and solve their own issues. It takes an embarrassing convenience store incident for Kate to realise what her affliction is doing. Smashed also smartly depicts why alcohol is seen as, as Homer Simpson puts it, “the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.” It’s lightly comic touch relieves the heavily dramatic weight of this identifiable issue. The laughs come from Kate and Charlie’s increasingly stupefying actions. When she wakes up under a bridge after a big night out, even she knows what has to happen with her life. Her perspective is illustrated with visual flair. Jarring at points; constant focus pulls, handheld camera work and cuts to black depict the heavy distortion created through consumption.
A heart-warming and important experience, Smashed also discusses how people are drawn together. Whether they are causing the problem or wish to help, the characters are suitably realistic. Her relationship with Charlie is a sad exploration into how her problems started. This couple celebrates their own inappropriate behaviour. Charlie sits at the back of the bar cheering on his drunken wife. As she belts out a hit song, both her and this appalling issue are placed in the spotlight. Unfortunately, their relationship is barely developed. This is mostly due to the lack of depth given to Charlie. He is simply the ‘enabler’. Smashed unconvincingly focuses on the struggle between husband and wife, with every revelation being predictable or disengaging. The film succeeds, however, by establishing the importance of Kate’s journey. Studying her broken childhood, cynical mother and care-free attitude, this enlightening story of hope is based on redefining these vital elements of her existence. Several sub-plots fail to develop throughout. This slice-of-life story of survival and repression presents some key relationships but fails to explore them. Maybe this is a necessary decision; leaving us to question where Kate’s story may, or may not, end up.
“I like knowing that every little fuck-up I make is going to be a topic of conversation with a woman that I don’t know.” (Charlie (Aaron Paul), Smashed).
This grounded version of Leaving Las Vegas is supported by likeable performances from its ensemble cast. The actors filling these roles deliver a necessary amount of charisma. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The Thing) is an energetic presence on screen. Providing equal amounts of sassiness and sorrow, Winstead delivers in an already solemn role. Her character is a likeable and strong-willed individual lost to temptation. Her humanistic turn is what propels the narrative as she constantly questions the people around her and her own life. Aaron Paul (HBO’s Breaking Bad) delivers in an underdeveloped role. Giving freelance writers a bad name, his character is a sympathetic yet problematic part of Kate’s life. He may be to blame for his marriage’s problems, but he becomes increasingly and sadly unstable without the love of his life. Nick Offerman is essentially playing a toned-down version of his character Ron Swanson from TV series Parks and Recreation. As easily the film’s smartest character, Offerman provides a needed sense of wit and jerkiness. Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) turns her two dimensional role into a memorable part of this story. Her character’s down-trodden past compels everyone around her.
The first step of overcoming any addiction is admitting you have a problem. Kate’s unforgivable actions lead her to become a likeable and realistic character. Smashed examines the human soul while facing a controversial subject head-on.