Film review: Smashed (15)

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IN REAL life, the shine goes off the company of drunks pretty quickly, but movies love rehab stories like a Martini loves olives.

Smashed (15)

Director: James Ponsoldt

Running time: 81 minutes


This is even more puzzling when you consider that, narratively, recovery movies come either in mild or bitter flavours, which is to say that the resolution of a recovery story only has two arcs: success or failure.

It’s up to the writers to tweak your interest with whatever variations and subplots they can generate. Coming soon is Flight with Denzel Washington, which has a doozy of a tweak: on the other hand, despite possessing a decent sense of humour and a determination not to preach, it’s hard not to view Smashed as dramatically underwhelming – a sort of Days Of Wine And Roses with wi-fi.

Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is married to Charlie (Aaron Paul), and together they have an intoxicating good time, pub-crawling through LA. At least, it looks like a good time at first. The public urination and crack smoking later on? Not so much.

Smashed is rather good at the furtiveness of addiction with its strategies of bluffing, lying and top-ups. Kate’s hangover requires a stiff nip of whiskey in the car park from a hip flask before she goes to the school where she teaches. When she throws up in front of the kids she has to pretend that she’s pregnant, a lie that she sells to her headteacher (Megan Mullally), who is oddly keen on the idea. However, her deputy (Nick Offerman) is not so easily fooled, because he recalls the signs of his non-sobriety, and maybe he has a crush on her too. Half-heartedly, she agrees to try her first AA meeting, where The Help’s Octavia Spencer becomes her sponsor, having replaced her own drinking with baking.

The decision to dry out requires some sort of anxiety from us as to whether they will manage to stick to their guns, and that means setting up something for Kate to lose if she gives up the bottle. In this case it is Charlie, who manages to hold down a nice little number writing for a rock magazine and has wealthy parents, which means he has little incentive to change their routine and dry out. At first, he is supportive but soon gets impatient with Kate’s withdrawal from their social whirl. Then the consequences of Kate’s drinking catch up with her at work, and she loses emotional control.

Smashed isn’t cruel like The Lost Weekend, or prone to romanticism like Leaving Las Vegas, or quite dreadful like Meg Ryan in When a Man Loves A Woman. Winstead is good, Paul (whose series Breaking Bad has been mystifyingly withheld from terrestrial UK TV despite being a show that could terrify anyone into sobriety) is even better, and I appreciate the script for depicting Kate’s alcoholism as a series of depletions rather than one convenient emotional moment. Nor does it spend much time tracking the reasons for Kate’s drinking; one encounter with her bitter boozy mother spares us a lot of trite psychology. This economy is admirable – we’re done in less than 90 minutes, or one beer and a chaser – but the ­bottom line is whether audiences still consider booze a hot topic when other addictions like drugs or sex are so 
much hipper and more weirdly glamorous. Smashed is a fine little film, but I’m not convinced that it grabs. «

Twitter: @SiobhanSynnot

On selected release from Friday