There are certain films where you can tell you are witnessing a life altering performance. One that will forever change your mind about the capabilities of a particular actor or actress. Smashed is one of those films. Although the film deals with the topic of alcoholism, it the performance from Mary Elizabeth Winstead that will be the most talked about aspect of James Ponsoldt’s latest film.
Smashed is a film that explores how both alcoholism and sobriety can impact a relationship. Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul) are a seemingly happy couple who share a love for not only each other, but alcohol as well. There is rarely a moment when they are not drinking or talking about going out to drink. After a string of increasingly rough drunken nights, which culminate in a hungover Kate vomiting while teaching her first grade class, Kate decides it is time for a change. Through the help of her co-worker Dave (Nick Offerman), a former alcoholic, Kate begins attending regular AA meetings and even finds a sponsor in Jenny (Octavia Spencer).
Kate’s quest to get sober proves to be rather difficult since Charlie has no desire to stop drinking. Still enjoying the party lifestyle, Charlie cannot even fathom why Kate would want to ruin a good time. Furthermore, Charlie struggles to identify with his wife’s increasingly changing priorities. It is as if Charlie woke up one day to find a stranger living in his house.
Unlike many films that have focused on alcoholism, Smashed is not so much concerned with Kate’s recovery as it is about how it impacts her marriage. In fact Pondsoldt seems to fast-forward through most of Kate’s recovery with the exception of highlighting a few key moments. Considering the chemistry that Winstead and Paul have together this was a wise decision. Winstead gives an assured performance in which she must run a full range of emotions from fun loving party girl to woman on the brink of losing everything. She is truly a revelation who is destined for great things thanks her work in the film.
Aaron Paul is solid in the role of Charlie though fans of Breaking Bad will know what to expect from his performance. He succeeds in never truly becoming the villain in the relationship despite his frequent lapses in judgment. The rest of the supporting cast, which includes Megan Mullally, do a good job with the limited work they are given. Offerman and Mullally are especially solid in roles that greatly lighten up the mood of the film. Thanks to Offerman’s Dave, you will not look at a moist cake the same way again.
The number of comedic moments in the film is pleasantly surprising. While this offers a nice change of pace from the more somber films about alcoholism, it does highlight the fact that this film feels a tad too cutesy at times. Pondsoldt plays things far too safe by drifting into unnecessary side stories. For example, while the subplot involving Mullally is amusing, it is not as integral to the plot as Pondsoldt would have us believe. Fortunately though, Winstead’s stellar performance manages to overshadow the films shortcomings. She is the real reason that Smashed works.