Lived in bars – Smashed review

Smashed – Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, and Nick Offerman. Directed by James Ponsoldt. Rated MA. By Simon Miraudo.

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Mary Elizabeth Winstead‘s name wasn’t among the recent batch of Oscar nominees. Had it been, it would’ve signified the biggest “little movie that could” success of the season, and a late commendation for her criminally underseen showcase Smashed. Instead, the Academy deemed Beasts of the Southern Wildled by its pint-sized starlet Quvenzhané Wallis – the lone indie triumph of 2012. That film astounded at Sundance and Cannes, and will compete against Lincoln and Les Mis for the Best Picture crown. Meanwhile, nine-year-old Wallis wedged her way into the Best Actress competition, leaving Winstead out in the cold.

Winstead’s snub – in an, admittedly, hotly-contested category – was the final insult for Smashed, which debuted at Sundance alongside Beasts, but failed to make much of an impression at the U.S. box office. This woozy, sun-tinged marital dramedy now circles the globe on the festival circuit, like the last girl at the dance still looking for a partner. As history has proven, good features and great performances have a way of finding their audience. Hopefully this one will find a suitor or two.

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Winstead and Aaron Paul star as Kate and Charlie, a married couple whose hard-living ways seem less like youthful exuberance and more like substance addiction as they near their 30s. Kate is a primary school teacher who invents a pregnancy after vomiting in front of her students (the result of another evening spent with the bottle). She lies to Principal Barnes (Megan Mullally) to keep her job, yet confides the true nature of her fib to awkward colleague Dave (Nick Offerman, Mullally’s husband). Following yet another inebriated evening that this time culminates with her taking crack and sleeping on the street, Kate figures it might be time to “slow down.” Dave brings her to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, where she meets fellow addict Jenny (Octavia Spencer) and courts her as a sponsor. Kate could never have anticipated that existing in sobriety will be a bigger challenge than living her life as a high-functioning alky. First she must seek forgiveness for her past indiscretions and deal with the demons of her youth, and then come to terms with the fact that she’s drifting away from her boozy, aimless, stay-at-home hubby.

Paul’s future as a star was certified when Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan wisely decided not to kill off Jesse Pinkman in the first few episodes. However, though he’s great as Kate’s loving, if somewhat self-centered and in-denial husband, this is Winstead’s show. Not every weekend is The Lost Weekend, and writer-director James Ponsoldt – who penned the flick with comic and former alcoholic Susan Burke – is wise to offer his stars scenes in which they actually enjoy the alcohol they’re imbibing, as opposed to merely being oppressed by it. When the crushing, heart-breaking oppression comes – as it inevitably must – Winstead is more than capable of delivering, shedding her early, easy charm in sequences where she’s asked to evacuate her bladder in public, or clumsily beg her partner for sex (Paul must endure that indignity a couple of times too). That said, there are plenty of humorous moments that mercifully lighten the mood. In under eighty minutes, Smashed succeeds in so many ways; mostly by reminding us of its lead actress’s underrated talent.

3.5/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews.

Smashed plays the Perth International Arts Festival from February 4 to 17, 2013. It is available on DVD from March 20.

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