‘Smashed’ isn’t a smash hit, but it’s darn close

Mary Elizabeth Winstead drinks too much in 'Smashed'
Mary Elizabeth Winstead drinks too much in ‘Smashed’

Films about someone suffering from alcoholism aren’t new.  Days of Wine and Roses, 28 Days and When a Man Loves a Woman are among those in the genre where at least one drunk finds reason to get sober.  Smashed takes the concept one step further, and while it hews closely to Days of Wine and Roses, it isn’t exactly the same story.

“Kate Hannah” (Mary Elizabeth Winstead – Bobby, Death Proof) is married to “Charlie Hannah” (Aaron Paul – Mission: Impossible III) and they live in an ordinary house that has the unkempt appearance inside and out of the home of two people who drink too much (which they do).  It isn’t such a big deal for Charlie since he isn’t holding down a “real” job, relying instead on his wealthy family to provide for him.  But Kate is a first grade teacher and her drinking is causing problems at work.   Especially when she shows up for work hung-over and throws up in the classroom. Her students thinks she’s sick because she’s pregnant, and she goes along with that logic.

Her boss, Principal Barnes (Megan Mullaly – Bee Movie) is solicitous and wants to enjoy Kate’s “pregnancy” vicariously since she was never able to have her own kids.  She sends the ill Kate home to recover, but as she’s headed out, Vice-Principal Davies (Nick Offerman – The Men Who Stare at Goats) confronts her and says he’d seen her drinking that morning and that this is not good for her baby.  In a moment of rare honesty, she admits to him that she isn’t pregnant and begs him to keep her secret.

Aaron Paul and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in 'Smashed'
Aaron Paul and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in ‘Smashed’

We later find out that he is a recovering alcoholic and he wants to help her, but knows that she has to be the one to take the first, big step.  He invites her to a meeting.  There she meets “Jenny” (Octavia Spencer – The Help).  She approaches her about being her sponsor and Jenny agrees.  Soon she’s getting an anniversary pin (we’re never told if its 30, 60 or 90 days), but then things eventually begin to unravel.

Some say you never really understand just how low you can sink until you truly hit bottom and that’s the point director/writer James Ponsoldt aims for with Smashed.  And it’s done very effectively.  Winstead’s performance is spot on as the good girl who just wants to have fun and can’t seem to do it without drinking. Where Smashed has issues, however, is with the roots of her addiction.  It falls back on a tired cliché to attempt to explain where her problems stem from and in so doing makes what happens to her relationship with Charlie seem like a foregone conclusion.

Octavia Spencer is great as always and there’s just not enough screen time to let her shine properly.  The film is fairly short and it could have spent some time exploring the relationship between Jenny and Kate.  Nick Offerman is good in a role that’s intentionally written as being uneven.  The on-screen drunkenness and the sequences where Kate realizes just what she’s doing to herself have a gritty realism to them.

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