In retrospect, it kills me that I didn’t manage to see SMASHED anytime last year. It absolutely would have clinched for my year-end top ten. I even know which movie it would have supplanted: FLIGHT, a movie which covers similar territory.
Like FLIGHT, SMASHED deals with the topic of alcoholism with unusual potency and attention to detail, with an astounding central performance and with harrowing scenes of hitting bottom and going even lower.
Unlike FLIGHT, SMASHED has an unsubtle, lovely soundtrack that doesn’t threaten to undermine everything else good about the movie.
Director James Ponsoldt, between SMASHED and this year’s THE SPECTACULAR NOW, has cornered the market on low-fi and true pictures that deal with addiction in surprising, disarming, and sneakily affecting ways. He wrote SMASHED with Susan Burke, and assembled a tremendous cast that includes never-fail ringers like Aaron Paul (“Jesse Pinkman” on Breaking Bad), Octavia Spencer (FRUITVALE STATION), Bree Turner, Mary Kay Place, Megan Mullally, and Nick Offerman.
Those last two, by the way, I am now officially willing to follow to the ends of the earth, due to the fact that everything they do together (Parks & Recreation, Axe Cop, THE KINGS OF SUMMER) is so resolutely charming. Her role, as a sympathetic school principal dealing with a young teacher who lies and comes to work drunk, is probably smaller than his, as a fellow teacher who helps that troubled co-worker find her way into a support network but has his own weird issues going on. But both are indelible in this film, as is the entire cast. Everyone in the movie is funny, sad, and disarming.
But SMASHED is Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s victory most of all. Already beloved by genre fans for her roles in horror and action movies, she proves definitively that she is one of the most under-utilized great actresses of her generation with her role as Kate, a schoolteacher who decides to get sober despite the fact that her husband and main running buddy (Aaron Paul’s Charlie) isn’t ultimately willing to do the same. Winstead’s performance isn’t showy or grandiose, which is a sacrifice. You don’t get fancy awards for underplaying. Instead, she plays it like a real person. Kate is a person you could know. She’s a person you quickly come to care about. She’s a person you worry about. She’s a person you can hope for. That’s more noble. That’s true acting; playing a part with honesty, without underlining everything for the cheap seats.
I feel so fondly towards this small, sweet, special movie, but I’m not sure I could express myself anywhere near as well as the late, great Roger Ebert did in his review. Please seek it out – it’s one of the most beautiful pieces he ever wrote, and it will convince you, if I haven’t, that SMASHED is a film well worth the attention you give it.