Despite a strong central performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the Sundance favorite can't escape its message-movie feel
Kate and Charlie, an attractive young married couple, shoot pool together. And drink. They sing karaoke. And drink. They ride bikes through their Los Angeles neighborhood at dusk. And drink. They make love, or at least try to: Frequently they've drunk too much.
You may notice a common thread here. Lest you miss it, Smashed—the indie drama of which Kate and Charlie are the protagonists—opens one morning with Kate having wet the bed. Over breakfast, she asks Charlie, "Why is it that coffee tastes so much better when you make it?" He replies, "Because I make it with rum. And I also make it with bacon."
No, Smashed is not a film about the perils of saturated fats. It is, as its title and very nearly its every scene make clear, a film about the perils of alcoholism. And despite its many virtues, the Sundance award-winning second feature by writer-director James Ponsoldt never lets you forget it.
The first 20 minutes or so of the movie follow Kate, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as she hits bottom, bounces, and hits it again: vomiting in front of the grammar-school class she teaches and pretending it's because she's pregnant; experimenting with crack and waking up in an abandoned lot downtown; peeing on the floor of a late-night convenience store. On the advice of a colleague at school, she goes to AA and sobers up. Charlie, however, played by Aaron Paul, does not—which will come as little surprise to viewers familiar with the actor's work as Jesse on Breaking Bad—and their abruptly unbalanced marriage begins to teeter.