It’s not often that we see female characters in love with booze. In film, men dominate that archetype. But director James Ponsoldt, who co-wrote Smashed with actress Susan Burke, gave Mary Elizabeth Winstead the chance to play a woman with a heavy drinking problem. She’s joined by a fantastic set of players including Aaron Paul, Octavia Spencer, Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally. But ultimately, she’s the one that delivers the goods.
- Director: James Ponsoldt
- Screenwriters: James Ponsoldt, Susan Burke
- Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Octavia Spencer, Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman
- Cinematography: Tobias Datum
Kate and Charlie’s marriage thrives on their shared fondness of alcohol. Once Kate’s partying spirals into hardcore asocial behavior, which includes compromising her job as a schoolteacher, she decides to get sober. Her relationship with Charlie is put to the test when he continues to party and she doesn’t.
- Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Winstead gives a bravura performance that overcomes the film’s shortcomings. She’s known for playing fun roles in movies that aren’t usually set in our reality. (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). But in Smashed Winstead gets the chance to keep it real. Kate is a first-grade teacher whose relationship with booze has gone from fun to scary. We see her habits from the very first scene when she wakes up hungover and takes swigs of beer to keep her buzz going. It’s not long before she realizes she has a serious problem. She vomits in front of her pupils and in a moment of desperation admits a fake pregnancy. Winstead’s character covers the gamut of every human emotion, and she tackles each like a seasoned actress. She’s absolutely spectacular to watch.
- The Chemistry Of Mary and Aaron: Before shooting began, Winstead and Paul decided to get drunk together for the sake of getting comfortable with each other. It worked out great because their onscreen chemistry is resonant throughout the film.
- Supporting Cast: Though Smashed is, without a doubt, Winstead’s show, there’s a talented supporting cast behind her. Nick Offerman’s sweet and sensible Dave provides some laughs with his inappropriate comments. Octavia Spencer, who for many years went unnoticed until The Help, is in full force as Kate’s compassionate sponsor. Winstead is the captain of this Smashed ship, but she’s got some decent mates to keep her company.
- The Story: This is how it goes: Kate throws up at work and fakes a pregnancy. She goes on a drinking binge, smokes crack and wakes up on the side of the road. She realizes she’s an alcoholic. She goes to AA and gets sober. The end. There’s no withdrawal period. The Lost Weekend is a great movie because Don Birnam goes through hell and back to realize he needs to quit the bottle. Smashed doesn’t fully grasp the addiction of its protagonist. It barely brushes the surface. Kate quits drinking cold turkey. She struggles to adjust to her new lifestyle only because her husband continues to party without her. But her personal struggle is only seen in a brief premeditated relapse scene that lacks spontaneity and honesty. Perhaps we can blame all of this on the timing. Kate’s decision to sober up was extremely premature. And everything that followed it – with the exception of Offerman’s comment – was expected.
Smashed will be known as the movie that made Mary Elizabeth Winstead a “serious actress.” Any casting directors wondering if she can pull off a dramatic role, will look to this and know she can. In that sense, Smashed is great. Winstead delivers chills, thrills and laughs despite a script that barely digs into her character’s addiction. She is the force that drives this film and that’s good enough for us.
The Rating: 7.5/10
Smashed opens in theaters October 12.
Will you be seeing Smashed this weekend?