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TIFF 2012 Review: Smashed

'It’s no Long Weekend or Leaving Las Vegas but it’s a solid character study and at least it’s not preachy.'

 

Smashed is a drama about alcoholism and recovery, so you kind of know what you’re in for. It’s a great performance vehicle for Mary Elizabeth Winstead, with some memorable supporting roles too. It’s no Long Weekend or Leaving Las Vegas but it’s a solid character study and at least it’s not preachy.

Kate Hannah (Winstead) and her husband Charlie (Aaron Paul) maintain their buzz constantly. When she throws up in front of her first grade class, Kate is motivated to join AA and get sober, but not before lying and telling the kids she’s pregnant, so that creates more complications.

This movie exists to give Winstead a role to really show her range, something her successful mainstream movie roles don’t really offer. It is a strength of the movie that I wanted to see how this character gets sober and deals with the enablers in her life. I’m sure a respectable drama on the subject could mean a lot to anyone suffering from a real life addiction, but since I don’t have that, it’s just a character study for me.

You know the arc with family influences, marital stress and relapses, but there’s good scene work each step of the way. It’s interesting what the film explores and what it chooses to just jump cut around. The story is simple but there are big character moments, both at rock bottom, and when Kate tries to do the right thing.

Kate is a fun drunk, singing karaoke and being social, although she drives drunk so that’s not cool. She’s also a loving drunk too. Everyone I know who drank too much got mean, not that it makes it okay to be unhealthy, but it would have been the easier movie choice to make drinking all bad. There are some Oscar reel moments when Kate is at her worst, and the sober struggles are less showy but offer more subtle acting from Winstead.

The other characters in Kate’s life illustrate how getting clean isn’t just a personal decision. It’s interesting to see how her principal (Megan Mullaly) goes from sympathy to disgust. A supportive schoolteacher (Nick Offerman) goes way too far in a gloriously awkward way for Ron Swanson. I actually thought the kids cast as Kate’s 1st grade class were really good. They seem like real kids, not too precocious, even when one has a really big moment.

It is an indie film and has that handheld shot on DV aesthetic. It’s not quite raw, even though every scene seems to use available light from overhead fluorescents. I guess it depends on your mood how many of those you can watch. If I’d seen it at Sundance, it might have felt like one too many, but if you see it in October when it’s released theatrically, it’ll be almost nostalgic to get back into that indie sensibility.