Smashed | Film reviews, news & interviews
Indie tale of a life of high spirits turns traumatic when the spirits stop flowing
“Cringed” is the adjective you want to invent to describe Kate, the dipso heroine of James Ponsoldt’s Smashed who's played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. If there’s one thing that Ponsoldt's script, co-written with Susan Burke, captures - actually, there are many - it’s the excruciating embarrassment of waking up in the morning and dimly recalling what you’ve got up to the drunken night before.
Energetic camerawork from Tobias Datum thrusts us right into Kate’s home as she necks a beer in the shower before work, while husband Charlie (Aaron Paul) lies in - he’s a music journo and gig-goer whose life revolves around the night. She, of all things, is a primary school teacher, albeit one who needs a swig of something stronger even before first class.
Ponsoldt avoids staginess in telling us what, when and how these lives will unravel
We know something is going to go wrong - it’s just how badly, and the degrees between embarrassing and plain scary, that isn’t clear yet. Alcoholics can be masters of improvisation, but Kate's get-out this time is suggested by the five-year-olds in her charge: it’s not morning-after vomiting, as she well knows, but morning sickness as they helpfully suggest (the acuity of their suggestions later on will prove rather less convenient). Cue a sympathetic ear from school principal (Megan Mullally), who’s almost embarrassingly accommodating given that she herself can’t have kids. That’ll go badly awry, too.
We're in suburban LA, where a bit of bohemia is clearly more than okay for this late-20something couple. Charlie has enough family money to have secured them a small house, as well as his music pals to while away the daytime with. They clearly love one another in their happy-go-lucky way, though surely haven’t had a dry day since they made it down the aisle. Artistically we’re in low-budget Sundance county, where the music (Eric D. Johnson and Andy Cabic) is still just about rock, though the melancholy of country-and-western is gurning away underneath.
After one more night she’d prefer to forget, Kate realises change has to come, and she’s aided by the school’s deputy head Dave (Nick Offerman), himself in AA, who gets her to come along; Dave’s an awkward, fairly silent individual who nevertheless gets the most cringe-making line in the movie. There she bonds with her “sponsor” Jenny, the one she can turn to when temptation tests (Octavia Spencer of The Help, here generous with another kind of assistance, right below, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
The problem is that Charlie isn’t ready to go down the same road, for them to become “wine-with-dinner” people (children being so far nowhere on the horizon) - his gloss on AA is a spat-out “arseholes anonymous”. We know something’s going to give, but Ponsoldt avoids staginess in telling us what, when and how these lives will unravel.
It’s a breakthrough role for Winstead, playing with strong support. Her fun-filled face shows just how good a time she’s having in the first rounds, before a repertoire that moves through down-at-heel, towards new confidence (the stumble on the way gives her a boozed-out cadenza riff that she excels in). Ponsoldt gives us a conclusion that is more coda than second act, making Smashed, at 85 minutes, on the short side. He’s honest enough to recognise that when you’re living life day-by-day, a proper ending is one of the last things you can expect.
Watch the trailer for Smashed
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Burt Lancaster is a model of subtlety in Visconti's most candid self-portrait
theartsdesk recommends the half-dozen top films out now
Exemplary package celebrating Ken Russell’s compelling DH Lawrence adaptation
Almodóvar's moving portrait of a mother's grief, adapted from Alice Munro
Alex Cox’s account of punk rock’s ill-fated duo takes a ride to the heart of darkness
Charisma battles desolation in moving documentary of Ukraine's lower depths
A reputation's tatters are shredded in convincing detail
Atmospheric debut film inspired by Sartre novella on the nurturing of a fascist
New horror franchise isn't scared enough of the dark
John Schlesinger's seminal British New Wave drama about a couple forced to marry
Reassuringly cosy adaptation of Arthur Ransome's 1930 children's novel
Trouble in paradise for Blake Lively courtesy of a hungry shark