Mark Metcalf
Moving Pictures

“Smashed”

Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul, "Smashed" explores the couple's drunken downward spiral. Opening tonight at the Downer Theatre.

By - Nov 9th, 2012 09:40 am
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As in drunk.

There have been a lot of films about alcoholics. Hollywood, and show people in general, I suppose, know a lot about drinking and using to excess. The Lost Weekend with Ray Milland: great performance, great script, ugly and disturbing in its day. Days of Wine and Roses with Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick, directed by Blake Edwards right between The Pink Panther and Breakfast at Tiffany’s: two brilliant crawling-through-the-muck performances, with the very real possibility of romance down in that gutter. And more recently, Leaving Las Vegas, with Nicholas Cage, in one of his nearly believable performances: death seems to be the only answer to the truly passionate alcoholic.

All of these films have in common the fact that drunks are just like everyone else except when they are drunk, and then they are everybody’s fool and their own worst enemy. Being drunk is fun and cute and has a romantic mythology about it, but the price must be paid. Usually, it is paid by innocent bystanders, family and friends.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul in a still from Smashed.

In Smashed, a new film directed by James Ponsoldt, a married couple begins to struggle when the wife decides it’s time to “slow down” and, maybe, sober up. She’s a second grade teacher, and one day—severely hung over—she throws up in front of her class. One of the kids asks if she’s pregnant, and that seems to be the best answer at the moment, so she says, “Yes.” That “yes” propels her into a series of lies with her administrators and colleagues. Her drinking becomes more abusive and less fun, and her husband shares none of her anguish about drinking since he is not as social as she. Besides, he’s drunk most of the time and has wealthy parents who help support them both.

She finds her way to an AA meeting, gets sober, and no longer can live with her co-dependent husband. It is all fairly simplistic and similar to what we have all seen, or imagined before. The problem is that it really is too simplistic. Aaron Paul, who, over the course of several seasons of Breaking Bad, has developed a very complicated and compelling character in Jesse Pinkman, does little more here, as Charlie Hannah, than act stereotypically drunk when times are good, and doze when they get bad. He’s a weak man, totally dependent on his wife to develop a social context for his life; an isolated, game playing loner with no noticeable way of making a living. The focus is much more on Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who plays Kate Hannah. She is the one who tries to redeem her life. She has a nice “antic disposition” and is one of those fun, charming drunks who are desperate for attention and don’t know what to do when it isn’t there. But when her life is on the line—and it is when you finally realize that you are a drunk—she doesn’t really have the depth and richness of feeling to bring the audience with her all the way down.

The film made me realize that there really is something to this “charisma” stuff. Actors who compel you watch them just by being there in front of you are much more successful when it comes to playing characters that, in real life, we would turn, if not run away from.

Smashed opens Friday, Nov. 9 at the Downer Theatre.

For more of Mark Metcalf’s “Moving Pictures” reviews, visit TCD’s Film Page

Categories: Movies

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