Sober Fight: A couple faces the battle to stop drinking, and stay married, in Smashed.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
No matter how much we enjoy the weekend, Monday morning comes to us all. If Kate Hannah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up with a killer hangover from a weekend of drinking, it’s nothing she’s not used to dealing with, fueled by a leftover beer in the shower and a nip from the flask she keeps in her car on the way to work. And if her job is teaching first grade at a Los Angeles school, she makes the giddiness work for her. Or so she thinks.
Smashed introduces us to Kate just as she’s starting to realize that she has a drinking problem. It’s hard to ignore that well-adjusted people do not wake up in a field, certainly not twice in one week. Once she makes the decision to seek help, she sticks with it: Alcoholics Anonymous works for her, at least as far as keeping her from drinking. What those meetings don’t help with is dealing with a world that doesn’t quite understand. Her husband (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul), supported by rich parents, is content with a career (as a freelance music critic) that practically requires him to drink every night. The teacher (Nick Offerman) who guides her into AA turns out to have a hidden agenda, while her principal (Megan Mullally) is less solicitous when she discovers that Kate’s problem isn’t morning sickness.
Smashed was written by James Ponsoldt (who also directed) and Susan Burke, both of whom have acknowledged histories of alcohol abuse, and there’s no reason to doubt the verisimilitude of anything that happens here. As an entry in the deep genre of addiction stories, it’s often almost light-hearted. Just as you’re expecting to witness the usual gruesome details of Kate’s battles to get sober, the film jumps ahead to focus on the hundred minor problems that a recovering alcoholic faces on a daily basis.
The problem with it is that it seems more concerned with avoiding cliches than coming up with a specific perspective on an age-old story. The ending indicates that the filmmakers have seen The Days of Wine and Roses, but it doesn’t nearly have that classic’s emotional (if melodramatic) kick. The acting is first rate, with Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) as Kate’s sponsor and sitcom stars Offerman and Mullally beefing up their portfolios in change-of-pace roles. And the film is visually impressive, well beyond what you would expect from a low-budget indie like this. But in the end Smashed feels undernourished: the end credits roll at 75 minutes, well before my curiosity about these characters was satisfied.
SMASHED (3) • Directed by James Ponsoldt • Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Octavia Spencer • Rated R • 85 min. • At Osio Cinemas.