Smashed | Movie review
Mary Elizabeth Winstead gets drunk off a real acting opportunity.
Going from scream queen to serious actress is no easy feat. (Ask Neve Campbell, if you can find her.) The transition often requires shucking off a girl-next-door wholesomeness—the kind of image adjustment that Mary Elizabeth Winstead achieves just minutes into Smashed, when she turns away from a classroom of eager young learners to vomit into a trash can. Her character is Kate, a grade-school teacher with a severe weakness for the sauce. How severe? The workplace puking—an incident she rashly, foolishly blames on an imaginary pregnancy—is just the first in a series of inebriated mishaps. As Kate later acknowledges, she becomes a different person when she hits the bottle. And Winstead, the pixie-princess heroine of Black Christmas and Final Destination 3, gets to play both of them. It’s a dual performance of sorts, with the actress alternating scenes of glassy-eyed, hot-mess histrionics with moments of morning-after regret.
Not surprisingly, the debauchery is more compelling than the hand-wringing. That’s the problem with Smashed: Like too many rehab dramas, the film dries up the minute it moves into getting-sober territory. Spooked by her own behavior, Kate ends up joining AA, much to the chagrin of her equally alcoholic husband (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul). Director and cowriter James Ponsoldt complicates the subsequent recovery process, providing an unsavory dimension to Nick Offerman’s seemingly saintly support figure and demonstrating—through a disastrous confession—the consequences of coming out as an addict. The plot, alas, follows a trajectory as rigid as the 12 steps. As for Winstead, it’s hard to say if she gives a strong performance or just a lively one, but seeing a starlet step out of her comfort zone and tackle a real role is always intoxicating.