A solid addiction drama starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul and Octavia Spencer
Addiction dramas are a useful tool for actors to show their worth, if not garner awards attention. Nicolas Cage won an Oscar for his booze-soaked performance in Leaving Las Vegas, the benchmark for such films, while Sandra Bullock and Meg Ryan have taken time out from lighter roles to drown us in tales of alcoholic woes.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead now demonstrates there's more to her arsenal than feisty action and horror heroines in Smashed by playing Kate, a primary teacher in LA, who enjoys getting drunk with her husband, Charlie (Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul). A wake-up call arrives when she projectile vomits in front of her class and is forced to pretend she's pregnant, before a fellow teacher and former addict (Parks and Recreation's Nick Offerman) encourages her to go to rehab. Once there, she begins to turn her life around with the help of a sympathetic sponsor (The Help's Octavia Spencer) but finds her marriage starts to suffer.
Writer-director James Ponsoldt has charted this territory before with 2006's Off The Black (starring Nick Nolte as a disillusioned alcoholic). Smashed is notable for the strength of its performances as well as the way it combines a personal journey of overcoming addiction with an intelligent look at its toll on a relationship. It's also far from gruelling, paying as much attention to the highs of alcoholism as the lows without necessarily feeling the need to put everyone (viewers included) through the wringer.
Just occasionally, the film feels like things are working out a little too easily, especially during the third act, while the balance between the harder hitting elements and the humour sometimes feels awkward. But Winstead is good, Paul is great and Ponsoldt's film is solid, even going so far as to deliver a genuinely poignant final scene.