Mental Health Awareness Month Review: “Smashed”

Year: 2012
Runtime: 81 Minutes
Director: James Ponsoldt
Writer: Susan Burke, James Ponsoldt
Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Nick Offerman, Octavia Spencer

By Morgan Roberts

Getting sober is difficult.  Especially when you’re doing it alone.  That is what Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) goes through in 2012’s “Smashed.”  Kate and her husband, Charlie (Aaron Paul) are alcoholics. We learn that very early in the film.

But after Kate, extremely hungover, gets sick in front of her kindergarten students, she starts to rethink her relationship with alcohol.  Her students assume she’s pregnant – one noting their mom got sick when expecting a younger sibling – and she goes with it.  But it is not until a night of drunkenly doing crack, another – of many nights – of urinating in the bed, and in all sorts of intoxication stealing a bottle of booze from a liquor store that she decides it is time to stop.

However, she is on this journey alone.  Sure, she has support at AA meetings but in her house, her husband continues to drink.

smashed mary
Octavia Spencer and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Smashed (2012) © 2012 – Sony Pictures Classics

“Winstead and Paul are perfect in their roles.  They show that addiction does not have to impact older people, or unemployed individuals, or “lazy” people.  Addiction can happen to anyone.”

The film is really interesting in its honest and, many times, unflattering depiction of alcoholism.  Growing up in the United States, the depiction of alcohol usage is extremely skewed.  The drinking age is 21, yet it seems like underage drinking – and binge drinking – are a right of passage for teenagers and young adults. We make drinking seem dangerous but cool, exciting.  And, when we do touch on alcohol abuse, it feels more after-school special than it does talking about the most accessible substance.

smashed
Aaron Paul and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Smashed (2012) © 2012 – Sony Pictures Classics

“Smashed” avoids this. Its candor leads to some difficult moments.  If the uncomfortable moment of Kate lying to a group of five year olds doesn’t make you uncomfortable, her doubling down on that lie and saying she miscarried to her boss (Megan Mullally), who is devastated on Kate’s behalf.

“Smashed” provides an intimate and authentic look at addiction, specifically alcoholism.  And while the film has many difficult and heartbreaking moments, there is plenty of hope throughout.”

The film does not sugar-coat the road to sobriety.  It is messy, and there seem to be new opportunities for rock bottom.  It is its honest and authentic approach to talking about addiction that makes “Smashed” such a stellar film.  Winstead and Paul are perfect in their roles.  They show that addiction does not have to impact older people, or unemployed individuals, or “lazy” people.  Addiction can happen to anyone.  Kate and Charlie are in their late 20s to early 30s.  They have jobs and lives and plans, yet they continually get sucked into their alcoholism.  Miraculously, they thrive and flounder at the same time in each bottle.

smashed arron
Aaron Paul and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Smashed (2012) © 2012 – Sony Pictures Classics

Paul does not make Charlie the “bad” guy.  He is just as broken and ill as Kate, but he is not ready to take on getting sober.  He is not ready for changing his norm and his life.  Charlie is supportive but, does not understand how a household needs to heal together or it will fall apart. Winstead gives one of the best performances of her career.  Kate is endearing, conflicted, damaged, and fighting.  She grew up in a household with alcohol abuse, and has been surrounded by complicated, unhealthy relationships with alcohol; so, of course she would inherit that kind of relationship as well.

“Smashed” provides an intimate and authentic look at addiction, specifically alcoholism.  And while the film has many difficult and heartbreaking moments, there is plenty of hope throughout.  It is that hope that makes the film endlessly powerful.

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