More PSA than insightful tale
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, October 19, 2012
Gee, “Smashed” almost makes getting stinking, falling-down, chronically drunk seem like it’s no fun. (Which, of course, it isn’t, really. But does the movie have to be be such a party pooper about it?)
Here’s the thing. The story about a recovering alcoholic woman trying to stay sober when her hard-drinking husband won’t, or can’t, seems to pride itself on its uncomfortable honesty. A scene near the end features the heroine, Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), refuting the trite dictum that “the worst day sober is better than the best day drunk.” That’s not true at all, Kate insists, flouting the Alcoholics Anonymous party line. She and her husband, Charlie (Aaron Paul), had some pretty good times gettin’ slizzard.
Oh, really? Then why doesn’t the movie (directed by James Ponsoldt, from a script co-written with Susan Burke) show us a few of them? Aside from some montage-y scenes of Kate and Charlie laughing and playing sloppy croquet in the back yard, the movie spends most of its time and energy making drinking to excess seem gross and/or stupid.
Not terribly hard, is it?
Kate is a habitual bed-wetter, a problem exacerbated by her drinking beyond the point of self control. She vomits in front of a classroom full of little kids at the school where she teaches, hungover. She and Charlie ride bikes in traffic, drunk and without helmets. And one night, in a scene that more or less precipitates her decision to get sober, she ends up smoking crack in a seedy part of town with a couple of apparently homeless people she has just met.
As the closing credits rolled, I half expected to read the words “If you believe that you or your loved one might have a drinking problem . . .” followed by a toll-free phone number and the Web site for a 12-step program.
On the plus side, “Smashed” is generally quite well-acted. Winstead makes Kate a likeable, if deeply flawed, presence, and Paul manages to exude a convincing drunken stupor. The screen almost reeks of his boozy sweat whenever he’s on it.
In supporting roles, Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman are great as Kate’s principal and vice principal.
Offerman is particularly good as David, a recovering alcoholic who turns Kate on to AA (and who, over time, gets turned on by her). It’s a role that calls for him to utter the most explicitly lecherous come-on you’ve ever heard, with a straight face. He does it with the same shameless aplomb that has made him a favorite on “Parks and Recreation.” His infatuation with Kate -- an infatuation made more awkward by the fact that Kate is growing increasingly estranged from her lush husband -- nicely makes the point that the road to sobriety has as many potholes as the road to alcoholic ruin.
In a smaller role, Octavia Spencer quietly shines as Kate’s AA sponsor, while Mary Kay Place makes the most of her one scene as Kate’s enabling mother.
“Smashed” never really rises much above the level of a dramatic public service announcement. That’s not so much because of its tone, but because what it’s announcing isn’t exactly news. Alcoholism is a disease. Alcoholics aren’t bad people. Quitting is hard.
I don’t mind the scolding. But tell me -- or show me -- something I don’t know.
Contains obscenity, substance abuse and sexual situations.