Movie Review: Smashed

Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul in “Smashed”

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

It’s Kate and Charlie, the funniest, sweetest couple of regulars kicking back at the local music club. But a few hours later: It’s Kate and Charlie, the screwed-up drunks who can barely walk under their own power. In the late afternoon: Look, how cool they are, riding their bicycles around their northeast L.A. ‘hood. But later on that night: Look, what assholes they are, weaving all over the road, forcing cars to slow to a crawl behind them. And they don’t even notice.

When thirtysomething Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) finds herself sneaking a few nips from a flask before she walks into her class of first-graders; when she wakes up in the pre-dawn light near a homeless encampment; when she can’t remember how her bike ended up in a ditch alongside the L.A. River … Kate starts to reassess her actions. But her husband, partner and soul mate, good time Charlie (Aaron Paul), thinks that all she needs to do is slow down a bit. He suggests that they turn into those “wine with dinner” people.

The trajectory that Smashed explores isn’t all that unusual; a recovering alcoholic recognizes a similar illness in a stranger and reaches out, suggesting an initial meeting at Alcoholics Anonymous. In this instance, Kate’s elementary school vice principal, Nick Offerman’s Dave Davies, admits to his nine years of sobriety and invites her to a meeting.

Aaron Paul and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in “Smashed”

In the early stages, the filmmakers (director/co-writer James Ponsoldt and co-writer Susan Burke) get it right, giving us marvelous peeks into Kate-and-Charlie Land. They’re affectionate, witty people who are nuts about each other. And fun? They resemble Kate’s class of first-graders, giggling, playing, inventing wondrous new ways to enjoy every minute of their woozy waking hours. But that’s the problem: rather than accepting adult responsibilities, the couple ducks under a boozy blanket of avoidance. Even their house is a gift from Charlie’s rich mommy and daddy.

Ponsoldt and Burke also treat Kate’s tentative steps toward recovery with a light sensitivity, Kate giggling nervously as she announces to a room full of strangers for the very first time, “I’m an alcoholic.” Her scenes with Offerman’s offbeat Dave are some of the best in the film … though she’s the foundering alcoholic, their dynamic reverses because, ultimately, she’s the much stronger individual.

Smashed gives us wonderful performances as well, both from Winstead, as the self-professed “adorable drunk” who finally grows up, and from Aaron Paul, marinating his character in a touchingly sad combination of punch drunk love and denial. Additionally, Offerman adds just the right twist of the wackadoo. But as written, Megan Mullally’s school principal is off the rails, her inappropriate actions pulling us out of the story.

However, in the later acts, the movie unfortunately slumps into a pro-AA tract, an us versus them mentality soaked in righteous rigor. Octavia Spencer as Kate’s sponsor is just a little too perfect, a little too self-assured with her own recovery. (It’s as if she traded in booze for Quaaludes.) And unfortunately, though Winstead and Paul are superb, they can’t overcome the film’s third-act lethargic pacing. We care for these people and want them to fight for and with each other with true fire … but instead, the dialogue sinks into a repetitive, accusatory bicker.

Under the designation of the wine glass half-full: Smashed is only Ponsoldt’s second foray into feature directing. Hopefully, the third time will be the charm.

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Rating on a scale of 5 Days of Wine and Roses: 3

Release date: November 9, 2012 (October 12, 2012 ltd.)
Directed by: James Ponsoldt
Written by: James Ponsoldt and Susan Burke
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Mary Kay Place, Octavia Spencer
Rating: R
Running Time: 85 minutes

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 450+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

Comments

  1. Pat says:

    Isn’t the actress of this movie in her 20′s?

    • You’re absolutely right, Pat. Winstead is in her late twenties. However, I was discussing the age of the characters — in the film, there’s a reference to the fact that the couple is in their thirties.
      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

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