R (strong language, sexual situations, adult themes); 85 min.
They're young, in love and totally hammered. Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a first-grade schoolteacher, sits in her car and chugs from a flask before going to her classroom. Charlie (Aaron Paul), a music critic, gets to sleep in and drink on the job.
Smashed, a refreshingly concise and focused study of a woman under the influence, follows what happens when Kate has a moment of self-realization -- she wakes up one morning lying in the street, having smoked crack with a stranger after a drinking binge -- and decides she needs to correct her life. Director James Ponsoldt, who co-wrote the script with Susan Burke (inspired in part by her own experiences), opts for realism and modesty instead of sensation. There are no harrowing tragedies or depressing plot twists, the way most films about alcoholism go about forcing their protagonist to get sober.
The film's focus, though, is the relationship between Kate and Charlie, which inevitably changes when she stops drinking. He's supportive of her decision but is not quite ready to go dry yet, which wrecks the dynamic of their marriage. Winstead is terrific as a young woman scared into sobriety, only to discover that going straight and telling people the truth is much harder than lying and hiding her addiction. The final scene in Smashed is beautiful yet heart-rending, because you've grown to care about these characters so much, but you also realize that sometimes love doesn't conquer all.
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-- Rene Rodriguez, McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers