'Smashed' gazes at alcoholism with fresh, unblinking honesty

2012-12-06T00:00:00Z 'Smashed' gazes at alcoholism with fresh, unblinking honestyRoger Moore Mcclatchy-tribune News Service Arizona Daily Star
December 06, 2012 12:00 am  • 

You can't simply warn them. They can't see it. They won't. They're young. They're immortal.

Those "alcohol problems" are for older people. Those times they wake up and they don't know where they are, how they got there. Accidents. They laugh it off.

Every generation needs its "Days of Wine and Roses," a reminder that even if you just think you're just having a good time, the bottle is a self-administered anesthetic. And crawling into it puts you on your knees.

That's what "Smashed" is - a sober, honest and amusingly flippant peek into abuse by somebody who figures she's too young to have a problem. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the object of desire in "Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World," gives a career-making performance as Kate, a young married teacher who hasn't matured out of hitting the pool halls and bars every night with her adoring journalist husband, Charlie (Aaron Paul, also quite good).

She has a beer in the shower, nips at her whiskey flask in the car and throws up in front of the first-graders at the California school where she's a bubbly, animated and enthusiastic teacher.

That's not her first tip that all isn't well, but it's a biggie. The kids corner her into claiming she's pregnant. Her principal (Megan Mullally) goes overboard in the sympathy department. But a colleague (Nick Offerman) sees through her.

Then there are the bad decisions she makes after a night of boozy karaoke. Hubby may slurringly gush over "my drunken angel," but give a drunk-driving lift to the wrong barfly and next thing Kate knows, she's trying crack, manically lecturing crackheads how she's "just like you" and waking up in a place she doesn't remember going to.

She needs help.

Where "Smashed" turns poignant isn't in the standard-issue 12-step meeting scenes, where another alcoholic (Oscar winner Octavia Spencer of "The Help") becomes her sponsor. It's the strain such co-dependent couples face when the other partner doesn't see that he, too, has a problem.

Nothing about "Smashed," written by Susan Burke and James Ponsoldt and directed by Ponsoldt ("Off the Black"), is novel or new. When Kate tries to mend fences with her long-estranged mom (Mary Kay Place, terrific), it's "This calls for a celebration. Bloody Marys!"

We know the hurdles facing this marriage, this recovery and this career, though the script adds a few wrinkles to those.

Winstead and Paul give this lean little film an unblinking honesty that lifts it beyond genre. We believe them as a working-class couple, believe them as lovers who are "in this together." Even when we know better.

And Winstead, laughing and lurching, sleepy-eyed, running home in shame over her latest transgression, but rolling her eyes at some of what she must go through to regain control of her life, is a revelation - an EveryAlcoholic for a new generation.

No matter how familiar the signposts on Kate's journey, Winstead makes us see them as new and depressingly fresh.

Review

Smashed

*** 1/2

• Rated: R for alcohol abuse, language, some sexual content and brief drug use.

• Director: James Ponsoldt.

• Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Octavia Spencer, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Mary Kay Place.

• Running time: 85 minutes.

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