Smashed takes a look at alcoholism through the eyes of a married couple, Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul), who should so happen to both be alcoholics. Their relationship is completely based on their shared love of a bottle of beer, wine, whiskey, tequila, and such other recipes for liver disease. After an incident at her job (elementary school teacher, oops), Kate decides to try getting sober, which proves to not only be a massive personal undertaking, but one that puts a huge strain on her marriage.
Smashed quickly proves that Kate’s alcoholism, while not good for her, is exactly what makes her relationship with Charlie seem great. Before we reach the point where it’s clearly more than a just little problem and the audience is ready to call for their own intervention, the scenes of Paul and Winstead together on screen (while obviously self-destructive) are fantastic to watch. We see the couple doing such mundane things as playing croquet and riding their bikes, but these scenes are so beautiful that we really get a sense of their connection.
When Kate does decide to sober up, it’s surprising how well her choice seems to fit within the context of her marriage (at least, at first). Initially, it looks like Kate will be able to manage her problem, while also managing to be around other alcoholics who don’t want to be sober (including Charlie). Of course, Kate’s optimism doesn’t pay off, and she must ultimately realize that she can’t be around alcoholics while she’s trying so hard to not be one (again, including Charlie).
Smashed is an exercise in plot point after plot point with not that much disguising its intentions from the start. Barring the great performance from Winstead, the film fails to truly capture the audience in a way that a film of this nature should. When we see Kate grabbing a drink at work with the yet-to-be-introduced character, Dave Davies (Nick Offerman), we already know that he’s going to be the one to nudge her towards going to A.A. meetings. We see Kate’s decisions that lead her to realize that she needs to sober up, and we know that it’s all going to come back up in the third act with a specific resolution and fallout. When Dave opens up to Kate about his marriage and how his alcoholism (and eventual sobriety) effected it, we immediately know that Kate and Charlie’s marriage will have the exact same result. The film hides nothing and doesn’t try to.
Unlike Days of Wine and Roses, which tackles the same topic, Smashed doesn’t try to talk down to its audience. There are still a few choice scenes in which Kate goes too far with her alcoholism, and there are a few speeches where the entire point is to show how bad it can be when you keep the bottle too near, Smashed is still more show than tell, and does with the help of boldly transitioning emotions and tones. The runtime of Smashed is under ninety minutes, and such a slim time impairs the film from truly delving into its subject matter, brushing past topics and the weight of decisions too easily.
The Upside: Winstead proves that she’s a capable actress and, that with the right role, she can truly shine.
The Downside: Takes its topic too calmly for the audience to take it seriously.
On the Side: For an alternate take on Smashed, check out Allison’s glowing review of the film from Sundance.