The nature of addiction has long been a cinematic staple. The road and road blocks to recovery from the ditches of rock bottom serve as one juiciest arcs for a performer to show that old school triumph of range. The problems and road blocks that lie ahead for modern stories of drunks and druggies is that the past looms large and and hits and misses sometimes through no fault of any ones singular creation is that nagging sensation that we've seen this before. Smashed, the indie Sundance variation of the Days of Wine & Roses story feels especially darted by the been-there-done-that effect. And just as leading Mary Elizabeth Winstead, a rising star of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World-fame does an admirable job navigating the highs and lows of drunk just starting to see the light, the past and even present seem to haunt her just as much as the micro-budgeted sudsier quirks of Smashed do. It's difficult to gage, what with the massive and empowering portrait that Denzel Washington provides in the vastly bigger and harder to compete with Flight, but the emotional magnitude is out of scale too. It was easy to feel the hell that Washington brings to the screen, whereas Winstead's humble grade school teacher lush has to continually remind us of her strife.
Director and co-writer James Ponsoldt pays a nice lip service to a loving couple at odds-- the hard-partying Hannahs. Winstead's Kate and her husband Charlie (played ragingly well by Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul) are firstly and mostly presented with utmost affection for one another, and that's the one trick that Ponsoldt solidly sells-- their love. Kate is on a harsher track than Charlie, and a scarier one as well. On a seemingly normal day in the life that culminates in a regular trip to the local tavern, Kate meets a beleaguered stranger and ends up smoking crack and straggling back to make her early morning class. A big-time office mistake, and ridiculously over-cooked subplot begin her undoing. She's a mess and afraid and clamors to drop her habit cold, even as Charlie, supportive, has no intention of leaving the party himself any time soon. Smashed tells its often told story with all the expected beats of mania and histrionics, charting clues along the road that may have lead our stars down this murky path with half-cooked psychology, but there's no charge or overwhelming sense of reason or passion that makes Kate and Charlie's tales more arresting than anyone else's.
Smashed does itself its greatest disservice as an awkward commercial for AA as Kate is brought through the program through a school colleague (played by a series Nick Offerman; his wife Megan Mullally plays the school's principle) and shepherded by Jenny (played without characterization by Octavia Spencer), who becomes her sponsor. Those scenes reek not just with a it's-good-for-medicine vib, but also belie and take us out of Kate's struggle. The most potent part of Smashed is rocky but firmly cemented love story, but the filmmakers move away from the richness of that so swiftly, presenting a tale more closely behaving like an afterschool special. C-