The independent dramedy Smashed by director James Ponsoldt is a brave exploration of an alcoholic couple and their journey towards sobriety. The second of Ponsoldt’s films to premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, Smashed is an impressive and moving glimpse into the lives of people struggling with the destructive consequences of addiction. The film’s plot revolves around Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie Hannah (Aaron Paul), who both rely on drinking to enjoy their lives – or perhaps to simply numb the pain of their failing relationship. But when Kate compromises her job, by throwing up in front of her first grade students due to a hangover, she realizes she must change her lifestyle.
Winstead gives a tremendous performance as a woman struggling to come to terms with her alcoholism and destructive marriage. She tackles the complexity of her character with an authenticity that is particularly impressive for such a young actress. Her co-star Aaron Paul plays more of a peripheral character, and one without much depth. But the film’s one-dimensional characterization of Kate’s husband only places Winstead in a brighter light. Smashed’s unsentimental and honest script creates a realistic chemistry between the two leads and the supporting cast – which includes Octavia Spencer, Nick Offerman and Megan Mullaly – who all give strong performances. The main problem with the film lies in its fairly brief run time (85 minutes), which leaves Smashed little room to develop the relationship between Hannah and her insensitive mother, or to give the audience any sense of why Hannah and Charlie became alcoholics.
That said, Smashed’s skillful balancing of comedic and heartrending moments makes up for any flaws. It is a moving film that allows the audience to experience the pain, struggle and emotional hardships of a woman’s efforts to end her horrible addiction. Although the film’s subject matter is bleak, Smashed never loses hope in its characters and their ability to change their lives for the better.