Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is magnetic as Kate in Smashed, a delayed coming-of-age story that never quite gets inside its heroine’s head. An intense beauty who happens to be a lush, Kate remains charming as she sings sloshed karaoke in a bar, drunk-bikes home, or makes out with her equally smashed husband, Charlie (Aaron Paul)—though she can turn feral on a dime, peeing on the floor of a liquor store when the clerk refuses to sell her a bottle after hours. After Kate joins AA, Winstead ratchets down the voltage in an even more interesting way, making Kate still appealing but less explosive, less unpredictable—just less in general, without the fire that alcohol used to light in her.
But the script is as superficial as Winstead’s performance is dense, its on-the-nose dialogue and ticking-things-off-the-list feel making Kate’s story play like a series of anecdotes whose edges have been smoothed off in the telling. When Kate tells the assistant principal (Nick Offerman) of the grade school where she teaches that she’s a drunk, he not only doesn’t judge her but invites her to his AA meeting, when she finds a wise and wonderful sponsor, Jenny (Octavia Spencer) before the first break. Kate’s adjustment from near-constant drinking (she chug beer in her morning shower as the movie begins) to no drinking at all feels is reduced to a quick montage of her doing healthy, happy things, and staying away from the booze after that never feels all that difficult. Sure, she backslides big-time one night and winds up raging at Charlie for his failure to support her (“I can’t be sober and be with you!” she shouts), but we never really feel her pain as she battles the urge to drink. And if there’s a physical side to her story, we never learn it. Even when she goes to school with a hangover at the start of the film, there’s nothing in her behavior to clue us into the fact that she’s feeling anything short of fantastic, as she dances around the room, charming the answers to math problems out of her students—until she falls on the floor and pukes.
Come to think of it, the combination of melodramatic action and semi-anesthetized emotion in Smashed is probably a lot like what it feels to be an alcoholic like Kate, and she’s right: that’s no way to spend your life. Not even for 85 minutes.
Written for The L Magazine