Review: Smashed


 Smashed | 2012 | James Ponsoldt | Sony Pictures Classics

Smashed tells the tale of a young married pair of alcoholics, who for, for the most part, have fun when they’re hammered. However, lately drinking has been less fun and more scary. Aaron Paul (best known for the role of Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (who I first saw as Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) take the lead the roles of Charlie Hannah and Kate Hannah, respectively.

The film begins with Kate waking up somewhat bewildered; late for work because Charlie snoozed her alarm & noticing she peed the bed once again. Undeterred, she drinks a beer as she showers and gets ready for work. Spotting her flask in the car while parked in the lot of her elementary school, she knocks back a couple swigs. As she’s teaching her class, she suddenly vomits and a student asks her if she’s pregnant. Deciding that that was a better answer than the truth, she lied and told the class and, when the news got out, her co-workers and boss, Mrs. Barnes, that she was pregnant.

Kate’s life comes to be defined by stupid little things snowballing into real issues, as a result of drinking. For instance, later that day, they go drinking and Kate is about to drive home when a stranger asks for a ride. She reluctantly agrees, and during the drive, the passenger asks to smoke and Kate allows it. However, she ends up smoking crack in the car; not tobacco. But instead of chastising the stranger, Kate joins her and takes at least one hit. As a result, she wakes up in an familiar area, with no sight of either her car or the other woman. When she gets home, she tells Charlie what happened and both admit they’re alcoholics.

Despite her admitting to being a alcoholic, she still doesn’t do anything to address her issues. It isn’t until she gets drunk with Charlie one night and ends up stealing a bottle of wine from, and peeing on the floor of, a convenience store that she finally seeks help. She joins a 12-step program, stops drinking and gains a mentor (played by Octavia Spencer, of The Help). Unfortunately though, as she solves one problem; another surfaces and tension begins to build between Kate and Charlie because all his favorite places are bars and he spends all of his time drunk; both of which Kate refuses to participate in to avoid her triggers.

The rest of the film explores the root of Kate’s drinking, her inability to drink moderately, and the divide that forms between her and Charlie as a result of her sobriety, culminating in one especially intense and moving scene towards the end. The entire film is full of excellent performances by Winstead and Paul, but that one stands out above the rest. The stark contrast between Kate’s reconciliatory efforts and Charlie’s self-destructive behaviors is highlighted in the latter portion of the film. Kate is seen meeting with her estranged alcoholic mother and confessing to Principal Barnes. At the same time, Charlie is still going to bars, getting drunk all the time and refusing to attend the 12-step program with Kate; effectively sealing the fate of their relationship.

For whatever contributions anyone else made, it is Paul and Winstead that bring these characters to life and make their pain and other emotions palpable to the audience. That is not to say the writers and director James Ponsoldt didn’t make significant contributions. The shenanigans that Kate and Charlie get into portray alcohol as the dangerous mental illness it is, without demonizing those afflicted with it. The fact that it is a shameful public urination, and not a murder or robbery, that prompts Kate to turn her life around, allows the audience to laugh at the situation, while still understanding the gravity of it. Paul and Winstead aren’t the only ones that shine in this picture, though. Performances from Nick Offerman (Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation) whose character is outside of his comfort zone and Mary Kay Place are especially strong. Octavia Spencer is a great actress but the script didn’t give her much to work with.

On the whole, I quite enjoyed this film. It had strong writing and great performances, especially from the leading actors. I definitely recommend it to others.

Rating : 8.2 / 10