In this sweetly seductive Amerindie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead delivers one of the year's most appealing performances as a sozzled school teacher.
The film opens in post-bender stupor. Both Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul) have clearly been here many times before. Almost immediately we are introduced to Kate’s alcoholism and the dangerous psychological terrain it's leading her into. When sick in front of her kindergarten class, Kate claims she is pregnant in order to cover up a hangover.
Later, after a few beers in a raucous bar with her husband, Kate decides to leave early and drive (drunk) home. On the way she picks up a down-and-out crack addict who offers her a free sample. "Last night I ended up smoking crack", she later admits to Charlie. A dark reality that is given enough humour to serve its absurdity, but also enough caution as to not completely gloss over the sensitive subject matter.
Though Ponsoldt delivers on his intentions to present alcoholism in its many guises – and not all bad – he also piggybacks on Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s magnetism. With a warmth and independence to compliment her character’s quirks and faults, Winstead is superb.
And like Nicolas Cage’s unforgettable performance as a Hollywood screenwriter hell bent on drinking himself into oblivion in Leaving Las Vegas, Winstead imbues her performance with an appealing humanity. She perfectly embodies the courage that Kate shows when deciding to quit drinking and to finally confront how this will affect her relationship with her husband.
In contrast, Aaron Paul gets lost in the background as Kate’s slacker husband. In many respects Smashed is even less melodramatic than Steve McQueen’s unyielding and acclaimed sex addiction drama, Shame, in its depiction of a similarly destructive tendencies. With the naturalistic aura of mumblecore indies, Smashed also has a smart sincerity to match some of its navel gazing. This is mumblecore at its most enlivening and psychologically trenchant.
Check out Mary Elizabeth Winstead's exclusive guide to acting drunk.
Mumblecore goes serious. Pass the booze.
A surprisingly authentic and heart-warming portrait of the struggles of overcoming alcoholism.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the essential cog in James Ponsoldt’s insightful drama.