There have been several films about drunks (The Lost Weekend, Leaving Las Vegas, Under The Volcano, etc.) but only two, really, about a couple coping with alcoholism with one choosing sobriety and the other resisting or unable to follow — Blake Edwards‘ Days of Wine and Roses and now James Ponsoldt‘s Smashed (Sony Classics, 10.12), which I missed at Sundance but finally saw last night.
Aaron Paul, Mary Elizabeth Winstead in James Ponsoldt’s Smashed.
I liked it, wasn’t bored, stayed with it, admired it and came out saying to myself and anyone who asked, “Yeah, definitely…a straight story foritifed by solid writing, strong directing and really fine performances,” especially from Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Breaking Bad‘s Aaron Paul. It’s all about character, choices and consequence within realistic restrictions, and these two bring honesty and clarity to the table.
The only problem I had with their on-screen marriage is that Winstead is tallish (about 5’8″) and Paul seems at least a bit shorter. This may be an illusion, but with the giselle-like, open-hearted Winstead around it’s hard to invest in a runty T-shirted guy with a tennis-ball haircut and patchy facial growth playing a party animal…no offense. (I have a thing about tennis-ball haircuts, which I feel are good for one environment and one movie only — the Devil’s Island prison colony in Franklin J. Schaffner‘s Papillon.) I’m not faulting Paul’s performance in the least. He just bothers me.
Special cheers and commendations to director and cowriter James Ponsoldt for keeping things pruned and focused and making every scene seem necessary. The screenplay was co-written by Susan Burke, a recovering alcoholic who faced her issues in her late teens and early 20s, and so the film seems to know whereof it speaks. Speaking as a currently sober guy and the son of an alcoholic it passes the smell test and then some. Smashed deserves all the respect, admiration, ticket sales, downloads and Spirit Awards that the world can offer or part with.
With the exception of one “oh, come on!” moment, Smashed walks right in, sits right down and tells the truth about alcoholism in a way that feels like tight drama and a serious roll-on or roll-in. I would only add that as cleansing and righteous as telling the raw truth can feel, never confess your alcoholic sins to an employer…ever. Employers don’t want to know about your personal stuff so don’t even think about going there. Employers are not your friends. They are people to be served and satisfied and respected as far as it goes, but they always need to be played.
Do 20- and 30-somethings have alcohol issues that compare to the ones that 40-and-overs have? Probably, but I sure as hell never paid attention to whatever issues I might have had in my 20s and 30s. I just sipped and chugged and “ho-hoh”-ed along and didn’t give it a second thought. Then I was stopped by some very bad omens in the ’90s and that was the end of my vodka-and-lemonade-ing. And then it hit me that wine and beer had become a bit of a drag and they got the heave-ho last March.
I was indifferent to Winstead in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (a movie that I did everything in my power to wound if not kill) and I barely remember her from Death Proof, but she settles in, plants her feet and delivers the plain goods here. Her performance is more in the realm of seriously rooted and convincing than drop-dead, Oscar-assured wowser, but she’s obviously upped her game. If Winstead is smart she’ll never go back to being a geek pixie-fantasy girl. Well, she can, but it’ll be a comedown now that she’s achieved a kind of career peak.
Cheers also to costars Nick Offerman, Octavia Spencer, Mary Kay Place and Megan Mullally (whose reaction to Winstead’s honesty in an end-of-act-two scene is the basis of my “oh, come on!” reaction).
I also quite liked that Smashed runs only 80 minutes., and yet it doesn’t feel in the least bit truncated or abbreviated. It actually has a sense of story-telling discipline….imagine!
Incidentally: It was mentioned last night that Glenn Gordon Caron‘s Clean and Sober (’88) is also a coping-with-addiction drama involving a romantically-lined couple, but that was about cocaine and largely about rehab.