Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Octavia Spencer, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Mary Kay Place, Kyle Gallner, Bree Turner, Mackenzie Davis, Patti Allison, Richmond Arquette, Natalie Dreyfuss, Anjini Taneja Azhar, Susan Burke, Danilo Di Julio
Written by: James Ponsoldt, Susan Burke
Directed by: James Ponsoldt
MPAA Rating: R for alcohol abuse, language, some sexual content and brief drug use
Running Time: 85
Date: 01/22/2012

Smashed (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Slam Drunk

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who has been cast as a token cute girl in many mainstream movies (recently, The Thing and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), clearly jumped at the chance to show off her acting chops in this well-made independent movie. She soars during her scenes of intoxication and suffers during her scenes of sobriety. She makes her struggle very human, and makes it easy to empathize with her troubles. The rest of the cast, including Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad and Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer from The Help, offer strong support.

Kate (Winstead) is a schoolteacher, happily married to Charlie (Paul), a freelance journalist. They spend their free time drinking and laughing. Unfortunately, Kate's drinking begins to get out of hand. She starts passing out and waking up in strange places, wets the bed, throws up at work, and even smokes crack. She decides it's time to stop and begins attending AA meetings. Unfortunately, being sober does not solve all her problems. She tries to make up for a lie she told at work and loses her job. Even worse, Charlie isn't interested in quitting his drinking, and their relationship begins to suffer. Will Kate keep up her treatment even amidst so many roadblocks and so much misfortune?

Director and co-writer James Ponsoldt keeps up a good pace and refuses to let the material get too heavy. He avoids turning Alcoholism (with a capital "A") into the main subject. He focuses on the characters and their slip-ups, jokes, frustrations, and all the imperfections that make up a person. Moreover, his visual style appears lived-in, slightly worn, and comfortable, rather than pristine or overly designed. Smashed is a good pick even for those that tend to avoid issue movies.
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