Review: Smashed

NOTE: SMASHED was reviewed as part of our Sundance 2012 coverage in January.

PLOT: Kate (Mary Elizabeth-Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul), are young, in love, and happily married. They’re also two raging alcoholics- but you couldn’t tell either that they have a problem, as they’re under the illusion that they still control the booze rather than allow it to control them. After a drunken misadventure results in Kate being given her first taste of crack, she wises up and hits AA. But Charlie, while supporting his wife’s attempts to dry out- refuses to do the same. Will their marriage be able to survive the transition to sobriety?

REVIEW: At the public screening of SMASHED, I told the director that I felt his film was our generation’s THE LOST WEEKEND or DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES, and I stand by that sentiment. Nowadays, it’s the road to recovery from hard drugs that are usually depicted, but SMASHED shows us an addiction that will be far closer to home for many of us, as who doesn’t like a good stiff drink every now and then?

If anything, it’s an absolute tour-de-force for star Mary Elizabeth-Winstead, whose performance as a damaged addict struck me as being even better than Anne Hathaway’s lauded turn in the similar RACHEL GETTING MARRIED which netted her an Oscar nomination. I only know Winstead from her roles in big-budget Hollywood films like SCOTT PILGRIM and LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD, and while I’ve always liked her- I never realized just how talented she really is. This strikes me as the type of performance that could be Award-worthy if given the right kind of build-up by whichever studio picks it up.

The first ten minutes of this film, that follow Kate over the course of one drunken day, that starts with her wetting the bed, and ends with her smoking crack, perfectly illustrates the dual life of an addict, with her being able to excel as a grade-school teacher, even if her body is being wracked by the ravages of her addiction. When she ends up throwing up in front of a class-full of kids, she lies and tells her principal (Megan Mullally) that she’s pregnant. Only the recovering addict Vice-Principal (played by PARKS AND RECREATION’s Nick Offerman- in a strong role) is able to see through the facade, and he brings her to her first AA meeting, where she gains a no-bullshit sponsor (newly-minted Oscar nominee Octavia Spencer, in yet another juicy supporting part) who launches her on the road to recovery.

All this happens within the first act, and the rest dwells on the unequal relationship with Charlie, who’s a bit better at controlling his drinking than Kate, but is just as addicted. While many films of this type would paint him as a monster, intent on leading his wife back to drinking, but this isn’t that kind of film. Rather, he’s compassionate, if weary of the AA process, and while he keeps drinking, director/co-writer James Ponsoldt never allows us to judge him. His approach is more subtle, and most importantly, it never proselytizes AA as the only way one could possibly get sober. Like anything else, AA works for some, and doesn’t for others- and that’s acknowledged here.

In the role, Aaron Paul, who’s currently starring in BREAKING BAD- one of the best TV shows ever, is crucially sympathetic as Charlie. We never doubt that he loves Kate, but he’s on his own path, and the film never condemns the character just because he feels AA isn’t for him- which is something rare for a film like this.

One thing’s for sure, of the dozen or so films that I’ve seen in the first half of the Sundance Film Festival, none has struck a nerve the way SMASHED has. Perhaps it’s that, at thirty, I’m at the same stage that Kate & Charlie are in the film, in that- as I get older, my body can no longer take the kind of hard partying it did in my teens and twenties, and personal responsibility becomes essential. SMASHED is a story about one woman’s crawl back from the brink, and to that end it’s an exceedingly hopeful film, and certainly, my favorite film of the fest so far.

Review: Smashed




About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.