REVIEW: Smashed
REVIEW: Smashed

In the first few minutes of this short, sharp, shot of indie-movie magic, young married couple Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul) wake hungover after another night of hard drinking.

Kate has wet the bed again - the result of a weak bladder, she says. She downs a beer while taking a shower.

Quite clearly, writer/director James Ponsoldt knows how an alcoholic would treat a hangover - with a little maintenance drinking - before going off to work.

Just for good measure, he makes Kate take a shot from the hip flask in her car before going off to teach her Year One class.

As far as films about the battle with the bottle go, this Sundance Jury Prize winner sits somewhere between the boozy highs of The Hangover and woozy lows of 28 Days (where Sandra Bullock hits rehab).

But it's not one of those depressing warts-and-all looks at alcoholism. It's a hip, smart, modern take on a young woman's battle with the bottle. It's not preachy or moral in any way, even though it comes with all the booze-film cliches - drunken highs, ugly lows, trips to AA and run-ins with loved ones.

The fresh switch here is that our heroic souse is a smart, pretty, young woman. Unlike many films about alcoholism, Smashed depicts a young girl who's wise enough to admit she needs help, even if those admissions cause major upheavals.

Kate is a functioning alcoholic. But on this particular day, it gets the better of her and she throws up in front of her class.

"Mrs Hannah, are you pregnant," one precocious tyke asks.

"Yes," Kate replies out of desperation. Her principal (Megan Mullally) couldn't be happier for her. But the vice-principal (Nick Offerman) knows better. He's been there, done that, and invites her to one of his AA meetings.

Kate's meeting with the principal and a visit to her estranged mother are turning points and big dramatic moments in the film.

Yet Ponsoldt never lets his film wallow in the miseries of addiction, Leaving Las Vegas style.

He balances Smashed with rich, weighty emotion and a light, frank, comic touch, and somehow makes the often-titanic struggle with addiction as rewarding for us as those who win the battle.

He couldn't have done it without Winstead's warm yet worn performance. Just as the recent PIAF film, Safety Not Guaranteed, gave rising star Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) her first big screen lead role, Smashed gives Winstead (Scott Pilgrim, The Thing) a meaty lead character and plenty of time to shine.

She makes us sympathise with - but never pity - Kate as she takes her first steps toward sobriety. It's a charming yet highly realistic performance.

It's also great to see other small-screen stars make the leap to the big time. Comic actress Mullally (Will and Grace) brings a rare sincerity to her authority-figure role. Offerman (who, like Plaza, delivers comic gold in Parks and Recreation) shows dramatic flare as Kate's painfully awkward admirer.

But watch out, most of all, for Emmy winner Paul (the drug-fiend from Breaking Bad). He's perfect as the permanently drunk rock from which Kate must smash her shackles.

It's quite a feat for a film to go so deep into the bottle without wallowing in depression. Smashed is that rare film that takes you on a boozy rollercoaster but doesn't leave your head spinning.


The West Australian

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