Yay, Mary! Today, a couple of new reviews post-Smashed screening over at Sundance FF 2012 have been published, and they’re nothing short of amazing. Here’s the first one via Slashfilm:
Filmmaker James Ponsoldt‘s feature debut Off The Black premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006. It was met with a lackluster response, but everyone seemed to praise the performances despite the troubled screenplay. After seeing last year’s heavily buzzed-about film Like Crazy, Mary Elizabeth Winstead contacted producer Jonathan Schwartz and Andrea Sperling because she wanted to be in a film like the one they produced. This year, Ponsoldt, Schwartz and Sperling returned to Park City Utah with Smashed, which features a must-see tour de force performance from Winstead.
The character-driven script follows a teacher dealing with alcoholism, and the problems that her marriage poses in her efforts to become sober. Winstead plays the teacher, and Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) plays her almost-always drunk husband. The story is basic and obvious (as in that it has the standard after school special character arc) but the details are polished and authentic-feeling.
The screenplay also features some nice moments of comedy. For example, when Winstead’s character turns up hungover to work and vomits in front of her class, she lies about being pregnant to keep her job. This lie snowballs into some funny bits later on. The fact that the film has comedic moments shouldn’t be surprising considering it was co-written by sketch comic Susan Burke.
But the film is Mary Elizabeth Winstead‘s to own. Winstead’s performance is powerful, moving — a must see. It will bring you to verge of tears. Aaron Paul has a nice turn, but nothing out of the realm that we’ve seen in Breaking Bad. It’s also worth noting that Octavia Spencer (The Help) has a nice supporting performance.
/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10
From the Salt Lake Tribune:
*** ½ (three and a half stars)
This drama of alcoholism and its aftermath follows a long movie tradition – “The Lost Weekend,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Clean and Sober,” etc. – and brings a fresh, vibrant approach to it. Kate Hannah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and her husband Charlie (Aaron Paul) are good-time drinkers, but Kate’s alcohol-fueled behavior starts getting scary. When she throws up in front of the first-grade class she teaches, her school’s vice-principal (Nick Offerman) suggests she try AA. Soon she’s taking the first steps toward sobriety, which leads to conflict with the still-drinking Charlie. The script, by director James Ponsoldt and co-writer Susan Burke (based on her own experiences with sobriety), is a firm launching pad for strong, authentic performances by Paul, Offerman, Megan Mullally (as Kate’s school principal) and Octavia Spencer (as Kate’s AA sponsor). But Winstead particularly shines, finding both laughter and tears in Kate’s rocky road to sobriety.
One from from ScreenDaily:
This Sundance entry in the US Dramatic Competition has the benefit of featuring rising star Mary Elizabeth Winstead in her weightiest dramatic role. Despite its potentially difficult subject matter, Smashed is an accessible indie that should attract arthouse crowds, particularly if strong reviews mention the good work by Winstead and her co-star Aaron Paul, who has enjoyed notoriety of late as one of the leads of the acclaimed TV series Breaking Bad.
When Smashed opens, we discover that schoolteacher Kate (Winstead) and writer Charlie (Paul) are a wonderfully happy Los Angeles couple who enjoy getting drunk together and hanging out with their friends. But after a bender that finds her smoking crack and waking up in the middle of nowhere, Kate begins to see that her drinking is becoming a serious problem, which prompts her to join AA. Unfortunately, Charlie shows no interest in his wife’s attempts to get sober, causing tensions to build between them.
The best aspect of Smashed is its low-key, non-judgemental treatment of alcoholism, which allows the audience to initially find the couple’s drunken exploits charming before eventually showing the real danger they’re bringing to themselves. Refusing to cast either character as the villain, Ponsoldt – whose first film, Off The Black, also dealt with an alcoholic – is just as concerned with Kate’s difficult path to sobriety as it is with their relationship.
In understated but resonant ways, Smashed illustrates just how much their marriage is connected to their drinking – and how Kate’s desire to change puts a potentially irreparable strain on their bond.
Winstead and Paul are intensely empathetic as the tight-knit couple, and they succeed in showing the highs and lows of drinking without falling back on showy technique or melodramatic grandstanding. But there’s also good work from a supporting ensemble that includes Nick Offerman as Kate’s co-worker and fellow alcoholic, Megan Mullally as her boss, and Octavia Spencer as her AA sponsor.
Smashed isn’t interested in hurling self-help bromides but instead focuses on how ordinary people struggle with their dependencies, and the cast’s casual ease with their roles allows the movie, while hardly revelatory or momentous, the opportunity to be quietly heartbreaking.
One from Variety:
Evincing the same character-driven instincts and knack with actors apparent in his underseen 2006 debut, “Off the Black,” but this time employing a lurching handheld camera to capture the story’s emotional upheaval, Ponsoldt pitches the viewer directly into a typically chaotic morning for Kate (Winstead) and her husband, Charlie (Aaron Paul). Drinking comes as easy and frequent as breathing to this Los Angeles couple, as is made clear when hungover Kate swigs a beer in the shower and then, right before work, takes a few surreptitious sips of whisky from a flask she keeps in her car.
To the viewer’s considerable horror, Kate turns out to be a second-grade schoolteacher, and it’s in her classroom that her latest binge catches up with her in singularly humiliating and professionally problematic fashion. When a second drinking session ends with Kate spending a long night alone on the street, she realizes how low she’s sunk, and eventually agrees to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with her school’s vice principal, Mr. Davies (Nick Offerman), who’s nine years sober.
As Kate bonds with her AA sponsor, Jenny (Octavia Spencer), and takes tentative but effective steps toward sobriety, Ponsoldt’s screenplay (co-written with Susan Burke) sketches a portrait of the forces that nurtured her addiction and now oppose her recovery. Not least among them are Kate’s own frequently sozzled mother (Mary Kay Place) and Charlie, a roguishly handsome layabout more disturbed by his wife’s newfound sense of responsibility than by her habit of boozily wandering the streets.
Ponsoldt’s pic is honest enough to acknowledge that Kate and Charlie’s old life was a lot of fun, characterized by long, woozy bike rides, heavily liquored nights at karaoke bars and pool halls, and plenty of rough but affectionate sex. Suzanne Spangler’s alert editing and a swinging, upbeat score by Eric D. Johnson and Andy Cabic extract humor even from moments that should be, and sometimes still are, properly appalling.
Indeed, “Smashed” is at times almost too entertaining for its own good, and a bit overinclined to spell out its lessons, a flaw mitigated somewhat by the inherently confessional, accountability-driven nature of recovery. A subplot involving Kate’s relationship with the school’s unsuspecting principal (a wonderful Megan Mullally), feels somewhat engineered to precipitate a climactic meltdown, and the film’s extended coda similarly goes out of its way to tie things up.
Overcoming most of these reservations, finally, is the drama’s sheer emotional generosity and the driving force of its lead performance. Most familiar to audiences from her supporting turns in such studio action/fanboy fare as “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and “Grindhouse,” Winstead at last gets to sink her teeth into a meaty role; the performance is effective largely due to the extreme contrast between the smart, articulate and resolved young woman Kate is at her core and the angry, raving drunk she so easily and frighteningly becomes.
The uniformly excellent supporting cast is anchored by Paul as Kate’s unsupportive but sympathetic husband; Spencer, radiating warmth and wisdom; and Offerman, whose burly, straight-laced Mr. Davies is the source of the film’s most unexpected laughs. Tech credits are deliberately on the grungy side, and Kate and Charlie’s shambling L.A. home is the very picture of lived-in messiness.
And one from The Playlist:
There is a sub-canon of films about alcohol as deep and as dark as a barrel of bourbon, from “Lost Weekend” to “Days of Wine and Roses” to “Trees Lounge.” “Smashed,” premiering at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, casts Aaron Paul and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Charlie and Kate, a married couple in L.A. whose love is strong, full and, more to the point, well-saturated. Charlie and Kate like to drink, and it shows; Kate’s mortified to have a hung-over vomiting fit while teaching, apologizing to her 1st graders and answering, falsely, yes when her kids ask if she’s pregnant. When Kate is busted by her vice-Principal Mr. Davies (Nick Offerman, in a performance that in a just world would be an Oscar contender), she confesses her lies and he simply notes “That’s … not good.”
It turns out that Mr. Davies is 9 years sober, though, and guides Kate to her first AA meeting. She explains: “Things have gone from ’embarrassing’ to ‘scary.’ ” Kate works the steps — and Charlie, with his work-from-home magazine writer gig and wealthy parents, doesn’t. It’s not so much a source of tension but, instead, exposing all the problems and co-dependencies their relationship is based on. Kate gets a sponsor, Jenny (Octavia Spencer) even while realizing that now that she’s sober, she has to actually deal with everything that she drowned in alcohol.Directed by James Ponsoldt, who also co-wrote alongside Susan Burke, knows that, by and large, he can simply let Paul and Winstead run; they’re both talented actors, and they’re both clearly relishing the chance to play something different. Winstead’s bright, light charm has helped her in a run of films, but here she gets to crack it open to show dark rot underneath. Paul may be best known as “Breaking Bad” co-star Jesse Pinkman, but while Charlie also likes his vices a bit too much, his performance — loving, gentle, lightly hammered — is in a very different key than his work there. As mentioned above, Offerman is excellent — sober but not perfect, a man with a good heart and a horrible shirt wardrobe — and Spencer is also good. (Some wag at Sundance tweeted that “Smashed,” like “The Help,” continues Spencer’s acting run of helping White people. That person should be ashamed; there’s nothing in the script or the context to link Jenny’s life and circumstances to the color of her skin, and suggesting the film or Spencer stoop to that kind of lazy work is insulting.)
But even past the performances, there’s a lot of technique to admire here as well. The editing is particularly adept — including a smashed smash-cut to black as a drunken Kate rages — and editor Suzanne Spangler works remarkably well with her director. Production designer Linda Senaalso does ace work — from the charming-but-grout-clogged retro-pink bathroom tile in Charlie and Kate’s home to the dingy bars and tastefully lame AA meetings Kate goes to. The script has a sense of humor, but also a sense of honor — Kate’s journey to sobriety is neither falsely friction-free not grimly and grittily horrible, and the careful balancing act of Kate’s journey makes us feel for her. (And for ourselves; I know more than a few journalists who mentioned that, during or after the screening at Sundance, they carried out a careful and thoughtful — indeed, one could say sober — examination of their own cocktail habits.)
It’d be easy to knock “Smashed” as a showy acting exercise, or a too-easy look at sobriety and choice. But all of the pain and problem-solving here feel human and natural, never forced or contrived. The sober are not heroes; the drunk, not all demons. Ponsoldt, Paul and Winstead make a remarkably effective team for this film’s points and purposes, and “Smashed” burns long after it goes down smoothly. [A]