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Tuesday, 01 January 2013 06:00

'Smashed' pours out the honest and bitter elixir of life

'Smashed' pours out the honest and bitter elixir of life sonyclassics.com/smashed
Written by Martha K. Baker
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About this Media...

  • Director: James Ponsoldt
  • Dates: Through December 2012

There is in the catalog of films a category of serious films about drunks. That leaves out "Hangover" and its sons, but it includes Michael Keaton's brilliant "Clean and Sober," Ray Milland's and Patricia Neal's "The Subject Was Roses," and Jack Lemmon's and Lee Remick's "Days of Wine and Roses." These are hard to watch movies, hard to sell, but unforgettable. Add to this list "Smashed," starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul.

Kate and Charlie Hannah are ordinary people. She's a first-grade teacher, his work is murky. Maybe he's a cook. But, boy, do they have a good time, and their good times slough over into their work days. That means that Kate maintains her nightly buzz from a flask in the glove compartment of her car on the school's parking lot. Just a little nip. Just a little tipsy, she plays hard at being an M.C., cheering on pupils as they add an initial consonant to the letters -- an to form "pan" and "can." And it's not a problem until she heaves into the corner of the classroom. A little girl innocently asks Miss Hannah if she's going to have a baby because her mommy threw up when she was pregnant. Literally cornered, Kate says yes.

The good news is that the assistant principal is able to take over her class so she can go home. More good news, although it may not seem so at first: He saw her sipping whiskey and tells her he has been sober for years and invites her to join his AA group. That invitation correlates with her fear that her drinking is out of hand, that it's gone from embarrassing to scary. As anyone who has decided to get sober can relate, that's only the start of the onion-peeling of problems.

Writers James Ponsoldt and Susan Burke show the onion and the tears in the plot. They show the struggles and the backslides and the revulsion and the challenges and the mockery and the triumphs. This is hard. Winstead of "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" and Paul of "Breaking Bad" handle the roles extremely well as their characters display sobriety and drunkenness, defensiveness and humility and bravado and worminess. There are times when each actor is so real that it's hard to read their work as art, not life. That's hard to watch.

Under James Ponsoldt's direction, "Smashed" is a tough sell and a hard watch. It's admirable for its honesty and for its time-slashing edits, which reduce the length of each day, one day at a time, but also of the film, which is only 85 minutes long and ends abruptly but truly. "Smashed" is the sort of movie that the people who need to see it probably won't, but everyone else will be glad to live among its truths as life and art.

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