LITTLE ROCK Kate is a first-grade schoolteacher. Her husband, Charlie, writes intermittently about the local music scene for an alternative weekly. They have a few beers in their comfortably rumpled Los Angeles bungalow when Kate gets home from school, then spend a lot of late nights in clubs, checking out bands.
And, as suggested by this film’s title of Smashed, they keep the party going, sometimes until dawn.
The next school day arrives early, bringing with it a wet bed and a stiff hangover. Along with strong coffee, Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) quaffs a little hair of the dog to make it through a morning in the classroom. She supplements it with a few quick sips before getting out of her car at school. “Not a problem,” she thinks. “I can handle it.”
Maybe Charlie (Aaron Paul) can. But after an awful late-night humiliation in search of more drinks and an attempted cover-up of overindulging that escalates into a potential disaster at work, Kate decides she has to quit drinking — on her own, without Charlie’s participation.
That’s when this quietly powerful film separates itself from splashy alcohol-fueled tales of woe such as Leaving Las Vegas. Unsentimental, realistic and sometimes unnerving, Smashed reveals what can happen when good times go bad.
It doesn’t hurt that Winstead is completely credible in the role of an attractive, smart young woman whose conflicted lifestyle forces her to make a choice she doesn’t want to make.
The most affecting moments in this intimate journey come while watching the effect Kate’s decision has on her relationship with her husband, a cheery post-college party boy from a wealthy family who honestly doesn’t understand what Kate is fussing about.
Neither does her querulous mother (an excellent Mary Kay Place), who immediately offers her daughter a stout Bloody Mary when Kate and Charlie arrive for a rare visit and is astonished — and argumentative —when her offer is turned down.
With lackluster support from her family, Kate finds a guide in her journey to sobriety in vice principal Dave (Nick Offerman), who, although given to occasional inappropriate remarks, knows what she’s going through. His efforts to help Kate are aided by tough, sympathetic Jenny (Octavia Spencer), a longtime alcoholic who replaces her addiction with a passion for baking.
Those seeking spectacle and fireworks won’t find them here. Set in a quiet neighborhood of Los Angeles populated with everyday people, Smashed is a thoughtful, sometimes funny, direct and artfully written investigation of a lively life that makes a wrong turn, then struggles to get back home —although home may not turn out to be where it used to be.
89 Cast: Aaron Paul, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Octavia Spencer, Mary Kay Place, Nick Offerman Director: James Ponsoldt Rating: R for alcohol abuse, language, sexual content, drug use Running time: 85 minutes
MovieStyle, Pages 40 on 11/30/2012
Print Headline: Smashed