Directed by James Ponsoldt. Starring Aaron Paul, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Mary Kay Place, Megan Mullally Club, IFI, Dublin, 80 min
Clocking in at a convenient 80 minutes, this examination of a young alcoholic’s route to recovery doesn’t waste much time on narrative diversions or fleshing out of character. In fact, it plays a little like a cinematic adaptation of an AA flyer. Beware the co-dependent romantic partner. Do not delude yourself with comforting delusions. Set beside less tidy examinations of alcoholism such as Barfly or The Lost Weekend, Smashed feels decidedly under-strength. But it does get some points for the sincerity of its purpose.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead turns up as Kate, an elementary school teacher with a roaring drink problem. Setting out its planned procedural rhythms, the film begins by putting the poor woman in ghastly situations: she wees in a convenience store; she takes crack with a stranger; she vomits violently in front of her students. Panicked by that last catastrophe, Kate finds herself telling the kids and her superiors that she is pregnant.
Throughout it all, Winstead does an energetic impersonation of a young actor doing an energetic impersonation of a drunk: one hand waggles madly while vocal stresses are randomised and hair is elegantly disordered.
What follows is straight from the alcohol-dependency handbook. Kate signs on for AA and – after a somewhat perfunctory struggle – quits the booze, but fails to realise that she also needs to rid herself of old friends.
Smashed does dare to suggest that misuse of alcohol can be fun. But it is less nuanced in its depiction of the characters circling the protagonist. Though Aaron Paul tries hard as her equally wasted husband, he can’t shake the notion that the character is composed from case studies. Megan Mullally, as the school principal, stands in for that part of society that will never understand dependency.
Arriving at an appropriate time of the year, Smashed has some (ahem) sobering lessons for us. Sadly, it hasn’t quite managed to turn them into a proper film.