Movie Review: “Smashed”

You can’t simply warn them. They can’t see it. They won’t. They’re young. They’re immortal.
Those “alcohol problems” are for older people. Those times they wake up and they don’t know where they are, how they got there? Accidents. They laugh it off. “I got carried away.” Maybe they just need to “ease off,” “slow down.”
It doesn’t matter if they’re Lindsay or Amanda in the tabloids, or Kate the school teacher just down the street, they won’t see the spiral they’re in until they hit bottom and they’re looking back up at how they got there.
Every generation needs its “Days of Wine and Roses,” a reminder that even if you just think you’re just having a good time, the bottle is a self-administered anesthetic. And crawling into it puts you on your knees.
That’s what “Smashed” is, a sober, honest and amusingly flippant peek into abuse by somebody who figures she’s too young to have a problem. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the object of desire in “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World,” gives a career-making performance as Kate, a young married teacher who hasn’t matured out of hitting the pool halls and bars every night with her adoring journalist husband, Charlie (Aaron Paul, also quite good).
She has a beer in the shower, nips at her whiskey flask in car and throws up in front of the first graders at the California school where she’s a bubbly, animated and enthusiastic young teacher.
That’s not her first tip that all isn’t well, but it’s a biggy. The kids corner her into claiming she’s pregnant. Her principal (Megan Mullally) goes overboard in the sympathy department. But a colleague (Nick Offerman) sees through her.

Then, there are the bad decisions she makes after a night of boozy karaoke. Hubby may slurringly gush over “my drunken angel,” but give a drunk-driving lift to the wrong barfly, and next thing Kate knows, she’s trying crack, manically lecturing crackheads how she’s “just like you” and waking up in a place she doesn’t remember going to. She needs help.
Where “Smashed” turns poignant isn’t in the standard-issue 12-step meeting scenes, where another alcoholic (Oscar winner Octavia Spencer of “The Help”) becomes her sponsor. It’s the strain such co-dependent couples face when the other partner doesn’t see that he, too, has a problem.
“Do you do EVERYTHING your sponsor tells you to do?”
Nothing about “Smashed,” written by Susan Burke and James Ponsaldt and directed by Ponsaldt (“Off the Black”), is novel or new. When Kate tries to mend fences with her long-estranged mom (Mary Kay Place, terrific), it’s “This calls for a celebration. Bloody Marys!” We know the hurdles facing this marriage, this recovery and this career, though the script adds a few wrinkles to those. Her students are obnoxious, alcohol does wonders for her libido, but not his, and for a culture drunk on the idea of “help” and support, a lot of us can be awfully dismissive of someone with this disease and the invasive, cultish ways various 12 step programs have of fighting it.
But Winstead and Paul give this lean little film an unblinking honesty that lifts it beyond genre. We believe them as a working class couple, believe them as lovers who are “in this together.” Even when we know better.
And Winstead, laughing and lurching, sleepy-eyed, running home in shame over her latest transgression, but rolling her eyes at some of what she must go through to regain control of her life, is a revelation — an EveryAlcoholic for a new generation. No matter how familiar the signposts on Kate’s journey, Winstead makes us see them as new and depressingly fresh.

MPAA Rating: R for alcohol abuse, language, some sexual content and brief drug use
Cast: Credits: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Octavia Spencer, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Mary Kay Place
Running time: 1:25

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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