In “Smashed” Mary Elizabeth Winstead and “Breaking Bad’s” Aaron Paul play, Kate and Charlie, a couple on a slow, steady climb to the bottom, watching their lives stagger by through the bottom of a pint glass. He calls her “his drunk angel,” and she goes along with it, until the day she realizes she’ll never be “a wine with dinner” person.
The realization comes soon after she hits bottom following a wild night of drinking and smoking crack with a stranger. Grasping that her life and behavior have gone from from embarrassing to scary, she decides to get sober. With the help of a co-worker (Nick Offerman), a sponsor (Octavia Spencer) and a twelve step program, but none from her husband, she does just that, only to find that life outside the bottle is more challenging than she ever imagined.
“Smashed” is a clear-headed look at drunkenness. The stylized drinking of “Days of Wine and Roses” and the self-destructive “Leaving Las Vegas” boozing are absent. Instead we’re given a brutally honest depiction of people who don’t realize they have a problem until it is too late. By then their world is crumbling, and it is heartbreaking to watch two people in love separated by the pull of a vodka bottle.
The tone of the movie shifts when Kate gets sober. The devil-may-care drinking beer at noon is gone, and suddenly the constant “I’m sorry’s” from Charlie seem louder and less sincere than before. But as Kate takes the smashed pieces of her life and start putting them back together she has some tough decisions to make, and makes them despite a lack of support from Charlie and even her mother (a terrific Mary Kay Place) who responds to Kate refusing a drink with the words, “no means yes where I come from.”
Former horror movie “scream-queen” Winstead anchors the movie with a strong performance that brings both vulnerability and strength to Kate. It’s a tricky balance but she finds it, both in her battle with the bottle and her struggle to understand how to navigate her relationship.
Paul isn’t given as much to do, but proves there is more to him than the lost soul we see on “Breaking Bad” every week.
“Smashed” is a compelling and sobering portrait of a person in crisis, but it also sheds a light on how people treat alcoholism as a personal failing rather than a disease.