Here's what a jerk might think looking in on an AA meeting. "Why do they each have to get up and speak? They're all a bunch of drunks who hit rock bottom, ruined their lives and are now struggling to get their act together, right? We know the drill."
Those who've lived through it (or studied it) understand that "sharing" is a key part of recovery, and that each story is unique. 'Smashed,' an independently produced recovery tale poised to launch Mary Elizabeth Winstead as an absolute A-lister, is a remarkable piece of work. It is sad, funny and wise. There's nothing in it that you haven't seen before, but to bear witness is a total emotional workout and a journey absolutely worth taking.
Winstead's Kate is a blast to be around. She's sharp and witty and, yeah, drinks a beer in the shower, sips from a flask in her car and, oops, gets the dry heaves at work. Unfortunately work is as a first grade teacher, so that's a little more than inappropriate. At some point along the way she went from fun girl to functioning alcoholic to not-so-functioning alcoholic, and is now becoming aware of it. (Her first puffs on a crack pipe and waking up under a bridge are the other big clues.)
Unfortunately, Kate has nowhere to turn, and it's here where the movie gets most interesting, and, sadly, most real. Her husband (Aaron Paul), with whom she shares a real, true love, is also a big partier. Man, the two are terrific when they're getting wasted together. They ride their bikes through the hipster parts of town and laugh and laugh. But he seems to be able to keep it together a little better. Maybe this is due to his constitution, maybe it's because he's of wealthy stock and has an undemanding job (music blogger), but for whatever reason he doesn't feel the need to lay off the booze. When Kate decides to get in a program, however, he supports her.
Anyone on the outside can see that this is doomed. Surely their relationship wasn't originally based solely on getting wrecked, but it has grown into that, and Kate soon has to decide if she wants sobriety or her husband. Added to the mix is her former vice principal (Nick Offerman) who introduces her to AA and, despite knowing that he shouldn't be her official sponsor for this very reason, promptly falls in love with her. Oy, it's all a big mess and can drive you to drink.
In 'Smashed,' the painful truths of recovery are laid bare: it never gets easy. Everyone has slip-ups, everyone hurts their loved ones, everyone encounters skeptics that insist it isn't "really a disease."
In terms of shattering skepticism, I'd like to officially apologize for all the times I've shrugged off Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Yes, she was foxy in 'Death Proof' and, yes, she was adorable in 'Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,' but she was a snooze in 'The Thing' and in 'Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.' Here she shows what all those casting directors saw, genuine originality and talent. Again, there's nothing all that new in the overall arc of 'Smashed,' so it's all weighing on Winstead's shoulders. She doesn't miss a beat, and we root for her from the very first frame. Considering the usual dearth of great roles for women and the recent trend of highlighting a young up and comer, I wouldn't be surprised if you see her name tossed around during awards season.
'Smashed' opens in theaters on October 12.
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at Hearst Digital’s UGO for four years and currently contributes to SlashFilm, MTV’s NextMovie and StarTrek.com. He’s made two marginally successful independent movies, is a member of the New York Film Critics Online and was named IFC’s Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast in 2004. Follow him on Twitter at @JHoffman6.