Movie Review: “Smashed” – Picking Up The Pieces

Written by Emily McWilliams December 01, 2012

James Ponsoldt’s “Smashed” takes on the weighty and familiar topic of alcoholism and addiction, but tells an emotionally complex story through Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s sublime performance of Kate that combines desperation, humour, and hope.  The film’s use of sparse but effective camera and visual techniques complimented the highly emotional narrative well, and contributed to the film’s overall simplicity.  I use the term “simplicity” here as a positive reaction to the film.  At 85 minutes long, it’s hard to believe that “Smashed” packed the dramatic punch that it did.  The film is condensed in the best way possible, focusing on the main conflict and maintaining the audience’s interest without resorting to irrelevant subplots.  The streamlined look and feel of the film, combined with on-location shooting and a really catchy acoustic rift make “Smashed” a raw and unflinching look at the effects of addiction on love.

“I Think I Need To Slow Down”

Kate Hannah is an elementary school teacher who spends most of her nights drinking and partying with her husband Charlie (Aaron Paul).  Drinking is something that Kate and Charlie have always done together, but Kate begins to notice that her binges are having a negative effect on aspects of her life outside of her marriage.  After a few scary incidents where Kate loses complete control of her actions while drunk, she decides it is time to seek help and join an AA.  While Kate struggles to stay sober, Charlie continues to drink and party, undermining the seriousness of Kate’s situation.  As Kate moves closer to becoming sober, she and Charlie begin to move apart because of Charlie’s unwillingness to stop drinking and support his wife.

Potential Oscar Nod For Winstead

Mary Elizabeth Winstead has been getting deserved attention for her role as Kate.  After the splash “Smashed” made at Sundance this year, some are saying that she could even be the surprise nominee for the Best Actress Oscar.  For anyone who has seen the film, the buzz is justified.  Winstead gives a performance that is sympathetic, but not righteous.  Kate is flawed before and after she decides to become sober, but this gives her character dimension and the ability to continue transforming.  Winstead is dynamic in the purest sense of the word and really carries the film’s main narrative.

Supporting Cast Ground “Smashed”

That being said, the supporting cast that features Octavia Spencer, Nick Offerman, Aaron Paul, and Megan Mullally also contribute very strong performances.  I was a little disappointed by Spencer’s limited screen-time, but in her moments on camera she showed sympathy and strength through her character.  Nick Offerman, probably better known as Ron Swanson to most audience members, delivered the film’s most conflicting performance as Kate’s co-worker who helps her get involved with AA.  Aaron Paul was able to match the intensity of Winstead, and the scenes between these two grounded the film.

It’s easy to write “Smashed” off as another indie-film about relationships, but there is a lot of depth and substance in the plot and characters.  This is a film that shows that love can be damaging, whether it’s between two people or between a person and a bottle.  The film’s ability to present these forms of love and addiction with original characters and scenarios makes the film worth checking out.

My Rating: 8/10



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