Smashed (R15)

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Review byMatthew Turner18/12/2012

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 85 mins

Involving and occasionally powerful alcoholism drama, anchored by a stunning central performance from Mary Elizabeth Winstead and some impressive direction, though the script is a little too simplistic in places and one or two moments fail to convince.

What's it all about?
Co-written and directed by James Ponsoldt, Smashed stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Kate, an Los Angeles primary school teacher married to music journalist Charlie (Aaron Paul). Since Charlie and Kate's social life often involves them both going to gigs and getting wasted, Kate finds her drinking is getting increasingly out of control and is persuaded to try and get sober after two humiliating incidents: firstly, vomiting in front of her first grade class due to a hangover (prompting her to lie to both staff and pupils by telling them she's pregnant) and secondly, waking up under a concrete underpass, having spent the evening binge-drinking and smoking crack with homeless guys.

Encouraged by sympathetic, ex-alcoholic work colleague Dave (Nick Offerman), Kate begins attending AA meetings and receives further support from friendly sponsor Jenny (Octavia Spencer). However, she soon discovers that her new-found sober lifestyle puts enormous pressure on her marriage to Charlie, who refuses to stop his own drinking, claiming that he doesn't have a problem.

The Good
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is terrific as Kate and her mounting sense of panic after her first ‘scary drunk’ experiences is extremely convincing, as are her attempts to keep it together (and lie through her teeth) when explaining her behaviour to colleagues. Paul is equally good as Charlie and his inability to understand why Kate can't just keep drinking but cut down a bit has a strong air of truth. There's also superb support from Mary Kay Place in a single but effective scene as Kate's alcoholic mother, as well as strong work from Offerman, Spencer and Megan Mullally as Kate's boss.

For the most part, the script has a strong air of authenticity, particularly in comparison to the way Hollywood productions normally treat alcoholism; certainly, the arguments between Kate and Charlie will ring true to anyone with experience of similar relationships between drinkers and ex-drinkers.

The Bad
That said, the fact that the film feels so truthful in some areas means that the less convincing moments stand out that little bit more. Chief amongst these is Kate's treatment at work, while, in trying to avoid the usual falling-off-the-wagon clichés, the film inadvertently makes it look like getting sober isn't actually all that difficult. Similarly, Winstead doesn't quite nail her big drunken scene in the latter half and errs on the side of shouty and obvious, rather than opting for something quieter and more convincing.

Worth seeing?
A few minor quibbles aside, Smashed is an engaging and thought-provoking alcoholism drama with a terrific central performance from Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Worth seeking out.

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Content updated: 23/06/2017 22:10

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