After years of drinking, Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) reaches crisis point, and realises that her alcohol use is more akin to abuse. Even though her husband Charlie (Aaron Paul) is not on the same page as her, Kate decides that sobriety is the right choice for her.
Smashed is not the typical film about addiction; you know the one that takes you through the characters facing withdrawal and their difficulties staying sober. Instead Smashed is a film how relationships change when people change, no matter where the change comes from.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead takes on Kate unflinchingly; this is not a glamorous character, but Winstead appears to relish in the fact that she gets to portray a person, warts and all. Kate is nowhere near perfect, when she gives up drinking she becomes passive aggressive and controlling, before she realises that the changes she has to make in her life are not just down to her consumptive habits. Winstead is strong and has no difficulty in carrying the story, but the story is precisely what lets her down…
Aaron Paul as Charlie comes off as selfish as his wife, but Paul allows his character to have some genuine and gentle moments with Winstead, before her decision to change affects them both. Nick Offerman is sweet but totally underused in the film, as is Megan Mulally as the principal of the school that Kate teaches at. In fact, none of the smaller characters seem properly rounded out, as all care an attention seems to have gone into creating Kate.
Director James Ponsoldt co-wrote the film, and such is the attention given to Kate’s character that it seems to be a very personal story. This is where the problem lies, however. Instead of creating a strong ensemble from a cast of incredibly talented actors, the script reduces actors who are not Mary Elizabeth Winstead to peripheral characters, orbiting around a character that is not that endearing. Ponsoldt directs Winstead superbly, and she is certainly the standout, but the script prevents the character from changing on screen so the audience can share her journey, and this is the weakness of the film.
In all, Smashed allows Mary Elizabeth Winstead to step into the spotlight as a strong dramatic actress, but the entire cast is let down by underdeveloped characters and a seeming squeamishness at showing the characters’ journeys on screen.