Films about rampant alcoholism are rarely a particularly fun watch. Much as I could appreciate The Master’s handling of cinema, I can’t say I found the scenes where Joaquin Phoenix appears to drink rocket fuel especially appealing. So Smashed falls into an interesting sub-genre: films about rampant alcoholism, which make it seem like a ‘seriously bad life choice’ without being that visually unappealing. And, for me, that’s nothing but a good thing. Smashed has a moral message about alcoholism, but the message is presented in the same pretty, fairly lights/lens flare way as the best indie rom-coms.
At the heart of the film is Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Kate. For an actress who seems to rove from one 2D female-sex-object role to another, this is a massive (and massively rewarding) departure. She’s fantastic in the central role and manages to quickly dispel any reservations you might have about someone who looks so fundamentally healthy playing an alcoholic. Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul plays her husband (and looks much more like an alcoholic) whose story is treated fairly superficially, but with a certain amount of poignancy. Together, they form the core of the movie and it is their relationship that we watch unravel as they yo-yo between sobriety and binge drinking. Seriously, neither seems like a good option.
The supporting cast are slightly underused, particularly Oscar winner Octavia Spencer in a role whose sole purpose seems to be to boost the film’s awards credentials. Nick Offerman has some great scenes as the slightly creepy vice-principal, but his story seems to make massive jumps in logic. But that’s all hardly relevant, because when Mary Elizabeth Winstead is onscreen, there’s not really anything else to focus on. Yes, it’s a good film, but this is an actor’s showcase and though she’s unlike to pick up any major awards nominations, this should put her in the reckoning for serious dramatic roles in the next few years.
A fantastic central performance elevates this uneven but affecting study of the effects of alcoholism on young, attractive people.
|Starring:||Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Octavia Spenser, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally|
|Running time:||Less than 2 hours|