Alcoholics come in all shapes and sizes, and from all walks of life – they aren’t always “the lowest of the low”, or rich enough to check into a high-class rehab center. In Smashed we meet a middle-class, high-functioning alcoholic who drinks her way through life…until she can’t anymore. Review after the jump.
Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a primary school teacher who likes to have a good time. In fact, Kate and husband Charlie (Aaron Paul) have always had a good time – life is a series of parties, late nights drinking and hangovers. This has never really been an issue for Kate (in her eyes); everyone she knows in her social life is exactly the same, and she never even considered that she might have a drinking problem. She has a job, a husband and a home – by society’s standards she is a successful woman, who has ticked all the right boxes in life.
That is until one hard night drinking causes her behavior to spiral out of control, and suddenly for Kate “what used to be fun is not fun anymore”. One of Kate’s colleagues, who recognises that she is an alcoholic before she does, introduces her to AA and takes her to her first meeting. From then Kate’s life changes, but it’s not easy, nor is it completely smooth sailing. Kate’s husband is still living the party lifestyle, and isn’t the most supportive spouse – he doesn’t think she had a problem to begin with. In addition, the lies that Kate told while drinking are still eating away at her, and threaten to ruin the new life she is trying to build. Giving up alcohol is the easy part, it’s the problems that alcohol was masking which are much harder to overcome.
Smashed could have quite easily been just another ‘alcoholic overcoming their disease’ story, but the excellent screenplay and outstanding performances, elevate this indie drama beyond any stereotypes. The screenplay feels like it has been written from a very personal place, a place of experience. The events are never over-the-top or too dramatic – the scary thing is that everything that takes place is utterly believable and feels so very real, almost as if it could happen to any of us. There are no extremes in this film, and we are never promised false hope. These are real characters with real flaws.
The performance given by Mary Elizabeth Winstead is nothing short of extraordinary. It can be hard acting drunk, and Winstead is required to do this for a large part of the film. It’s not just being drunk, but it’s the different types of drunk – happy, sad, crazy, manic, and confused – Winstead really nails it. She gives the character a real vulnerability and you are fully invested in her success, despite her flaws. The other stand out performance was Octavia Spencer as Kate’s AA sponsor. Spencer actually gets given the chance to act here (unlike in The Help) as the caring, soft-spoken Jenny, who you will warm to instantly.
The direction is strong, with the sometimes shaky, hand-held camera work reflecting the shaky, vulnerable state that Kate is in. There are many close-ups of the characters and it times it is so intimate that it boarders on claustrophobic This is a very personal film, and the director very clearly wants us to feel a personal connection to Kate and her story.
Smashed is a small budget film with a valuable and often untold story to tell. It’s a rare look at middle-class alcoholism, which may be the least dramatic or “glamorous” type, but is undoubtedly the most common. The film doesn’t have an Australian release date as yet (and may never get one), so if it pops up at a festival near you, make sure you take the chance to see it.
By Sam McCosh
Director: James Ponsoldt
Writer(s): James Ponsoldt, Susan Burke
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Octavia Spencer
Runtime: 85 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: No date set