×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Smashed

"Smashed" is an affecting and immersive addiction drama about the unforeseen pitfalls along the road to recovery.

With:
With: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Kyle Gallner, Mackenzie Davis, Bree Turner, Mary Kay Place, Octavia Spencer.

A terrific performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a rock-bottom alcoholic is only one reason to appreciate “Smashed,” an affecting and immersive addiction drama about the unforeseen pitfalls along the road to recovery. Scribe-helmer James Ponsoldt’s sad, funny and strangely exuberant second feature weaves a few plot strands too many as it pushes its protag toward her big moment of cathartic self-reckoning, but is enhanced by a rich, offbeat sense of life teeming in the margins. Distribs would do well to emphasize the picture’s engaging, non-depressive approach to admittedly hard-sell material that will need critical support to get anywhere commercially.

Evincing the same character-driven instincts and knack with actors apparent in his underseen 2006 debut, “Off the Black,” but this time employing a lurching handheld camera to capture the story’s emotional upheaval, Ponsoldt pitches the viewer directly into a typically chaotic morning for Kate (Winstead) and her husband, Charlie (Aaron Paul). Drinking comes as easy and frequent as breathing to this Los Angeles couple, as is made clear when hungover Kate swigs a beer in the shower and then, right before work, takes a few surreptitious sips of whisky from a flask she keeps in her car.

To the viewer’s considerable horror, Kate turns out to be a second-grade schoolteacher, and it’s in her classroom that her latest binge catches up with her in singularly humiliating and professionally problematic fashion. When a second drinking session ends with Kate spending a long night alone on the street, she realizes how low she’s sunk, and eventually agrees to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with her school’s vice principal, Mr. Davies (Nick Offerman), who’s nine years sober.

As Kate bonds with her AA sponsor, Jenny (Octavia Spencer), and takes tentative but effective steps toward sobriety, Ponsoldt’s screenplay (co-written with Susan Burke) sketches a portrait of the forces that nurtured her addiction and now oppose her recovery. Not least among them are Kate’s own frequently sozzled mother (Mary Kay Place) and Charlie, a roguishly handsome layabout more disturbed by his wife’s newfound sense of responsibility than by her habit of boozily wandering the streets.

Ponsoldt’s pic is honest enough to acknowledge that Kate and Charlie’s old life was a lot of fun, characterized by long, woozy bike rides, heavily liquored nights at karaoke bars and pool halls, and plenty of rough but affectionate sex. Suzanne Spangler’s alert editing and a swinging, upbeat score by Eric D. Johnson and Andy Cabic extract humor even from moments that should be, and sometimes still are, properly appalling.

Indeed, “Smashed” is at times almost too entertaining for its own good, and a bit overinclined to spell out its lessons, a flaw mitigated somewhat by the inherently confessional, accountability-driven nature of recovery. A subplot involving Kate’s relationship with the school’s unsuspecting principal (a wonderful Megan Mullally), feels somewhat engineered to precipitate a climactic meltdown, and the film’s extended coda similarly goes out of its way to tie things up.

Overcoming most of these reservations, finally, is the drama’s sheer emotional generosity and the driving force of its lead performance. Most familiar to audiences from her supporting turns in such studio action/fanboy fare as “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and “Grindhouse,” Winstead at last gets to sink her teeth into a meaty role; the performance is effective largely due to the extreme contrast between the smart, articulate and resolved young woman Kate is at her core and the angry, raving drunk she so easily and frighteningly becomes.

The uniformly excellent supporting cast is anchored by Paul as Kate’s unsupportive but sympathetic husband; Spencer, radiating warmth and wisdom; and Offerman, whose burly, straight-laced Mr. Davies is the source of the film’s most unexpected laughs. Tech credits are deliberately on the grungy side, and Kate and Charlie’s shambling L.A. home is the very picture of lived-in messiness.

Popular on Variety

Smashed

Production: A SuperCrispy Entertainment presentation in association with Front Porch Films of a Jonathan Schwartz/Andrea Sperling production. Produced by Schwartz, Sperling, Jennifer Cochis. Executive producers, Audrey Wilf, Zygi Wilf. Co-producers, Stephanie Meurer, Stephen Ricci, Elise Salomon. Directed by James Ponsoldt. Screenplay, Ponsoldt, Susan Burke.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Tobias Datum; editor, Suzanne Spangler; music, Eric D. Johnson, Andy Cabic; music supervisor, Tiffany Anders; production designer, Linda Sena; costume designer, Diaz Jacobs; sound, Bill Jenkins; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Ryan Collins; stunt coordinator, John Medlen; associate producer, Alishe Beardeaux; assistant director, Nicolas Harvard; casting, Avy Kaufman, Kim Coleman. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 22, 2012. Running time: 81 MIN.

Cast: With: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Kyle Gallner, Mackenzie Davis, Bree Turner, Mary Kay Place, Octavia Spencer.

More Scene

  • Gloria Steinem

    Gloria Steinem on Whether Trump Should Be Impeached: 'He Was Never Elected'

    Gloria Steinem has never been shy about her disdain for President Donald Trump. And now, the world’s most famous feminist has weighed in on whether she believes Trump should be impeached. “You know, I guess he was never elected. He wasn’t elected by the popular vote,” Steinem told Variety when asked if she believes Trump should [...]

  • Tessa Thompson, Justin Theroux and dogs'Lady

    'Lady and the Tramp' Cast on Remaking a Classic, Premiering on Disney Plus

    The divas on display at Tuesday’s special screening of “Lady and the Tramp” were of the four-legged variety. It was a night that brought out A-listers such as Tessa Thompson and Justin Theroux, but those stars were outshone by Rose and Monte, the two canine actors who portray the title characters in the live-action remake [...]

  • NBC Studios Sexual Misconduct Controversy Draws

    NBC News Sexual Misconduct Controversy Draws Small Protest Outside 30 Rock

    A handful of protestors gathered outside NBC Studios at 30 Rockefeller Center on Wednesday to demand the ouster of top NBC News executives for the network’s handling of internal sexual misconduct allegations, among other issues. The feminist advocacy org UltraViolet organized a demonstration outside of NBC News headquarters to deliver a petition with nearly 20,000 [...]

  • Michael Shannon Benedict Cumberbatch Tuppence Middleton

    How Martin Scorsese Saved 'Current War' From Harvey Weinstein

    Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon finally gets to release his version of his long-in-the-making “The Current War.” The film, about the competition between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, was originally set to be distributed by the Weinstein Company after Harvey Weinstein recut it, much to Gomez-Rejon’s chagrin. To make matters worse, Weinstein premiered the movie at the [...]

  • Law Roach Kiki Layne

    Law Roach, Kiki Layne Highlight the Serious Side of Fashion at InStyle Awards

    “I’m not supposed to be here,” stylist of the year honoree Law Roach told the well-heeled guests assembled Monday night for the 5th annual InStyle Awards. “Where I’m from, no one makes it to these rooms…and I stand here for two reasons right? One, that someone told me I was special; and two, that somebody [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content