Most takes on alcoholism in film are either rich people looking for answers in a bottle or desperate white trash trying to suck whiskey out of concrete. Smashed is a straight shot out of the middle class that’s a different take on the tale of a life drenched in booze. Married couple Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul) like to drink, but when Kate decides to get sober their relationship is challenged by her new lifestyle.
Smashed presents two characters deeply in love and drinking because they have a good time together. Director James Pondsolt lets the characters indulge and the obvious alcoholic clichés are on display including stashed hipflasks, drinking in odd places and early morning beverages. Like reviewing photos after a big night out drinking, everything feels fun in the moment, but upon review you see the ugly mess. After spending time with Kate and Charlie in their routine it’s clear they are not having as much fun as they think they are and Pondsolt never overplays these cringe worthy moments that involve sloppy bedroom action and weak bladders. The slow realisation that something has to change is organic and the script by Pondsolt and co-writer, Susan Burke is full of powerful moments and humour, especially when it comes to the lies Kate tells to cover her drinking problem.
Winstead is phenomenal as Kate, an energetic spirit far from the scum of society usually tied to films about the battle with the bottle. She’s a primary school teacher who is great at her job despite her weakness. The alcohol amplifies her bright personality to a level that’s blinding and Winstead manages to charm both when wasted and sober; it’s a stunning performance.
Nick Offerman is funny playing one of Kate’s colleagues and taking full advantage of the opportunity to flex his own brand of dry humour effortlessly (perfected in the excellent television series Parks and Recreation). Megan Mullally is sincere playing Kate’s boss and Octavia Spencer is wonderful as the wise recovering alcoholic who avoids being preachy and just sticks to candid common sense.
Smashed comes from a genuine place as if the story may have played out in a good chunk of households. Ponsolt is shining a spotlight on the cycles and behaviours inherit in our culture relating to alcohol and the escape hatch available via sobriety and other means of coping with life unrelated to Jack Daniels.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies