This week in movies you missed: drinking: an indie-film love story.
What You Missed
Kate and Charlie (Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul) are a young married couple who like getting drunk together. Pass-out-and-wet-the-bed drunk. Charlie, who appears to be a part-time music journalist, doesn’t think they have a problem, but Kate is starting to think she needs help. Perhaps the time she vomited while teaching a roomful of first graders and then had to cover for her condition by pretending to be pregnant was a clue.
After a particularly nasty episode of drinking-while-biking, Kate starts attending AA meetings, where she finds an earthy sponsor (Octavia Spencer) and fends off the advances of a fellow teacher (Nick Offerman).
With Charlie still spending most of his evenings soused, the couple is finding they have less and less in common. Can their marriage survive her sobriety?
Why You Missed It
After earning some buzz at Sundance 2012, Smashed was released in 50 theaters and failed to set the box office on fire.
Should You Keep Missing It?
I hate to say it, but this second feature from writer-director James Ponsoldt is kind of like an ABC Afterschool Special. Not one of the lurid ones (Helen Hunt on PCP!), but one of the more earnest, low-key ones, enhanced with pictorial, indie-film cinematography.
There’s not much to the plot beyond the classic addiction-drama arc: Protagonist hits bottom and realizes she needs to get sober; she does; she suffers a setback; she reaffirms her commitment to getting well. In the featurette, Ponsoldt says he wanted to make a love story, not a “message movie.” He fails, mainly because the relationship between Kate and Charlie isn’t fleshed out. We see that they enable each other’s drinking, and that without the drinking, there’s little keeping them together. But we don’t learn much else about them as a couple, or even about Charlie, whom we see mostly through Kate’s eyes. (It doesn’t help that Paul’s character is superficially a little too close to Jesse Pinkman on “Breaking Bad”; I kept waiting to see his Roomba.)
The movie belongs to Winstead (best known for The Thing, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and wearing a cheerleader outfit in Death Proof). The camera is on her most of the time, and she delivers a star-making performance — raw and natural, with no Oscar-bait theatrics. Kate is a woman struggling to keep her life together, but realizing she may need to let it fall apart before she can address her real problems. (We see where some of those problems originate in a scene with Mary Kay Place as her mom.) She’s also a likable person, frank and funny, which makes her bottoming out less horrendously depressing to watch.
The message about the price of breaking an addiction feels hard won and true. I can imagine Smashed striking a strong chord with anyone working on a 12-step program. But as a drama, it feels unfinished, lacking notes that haven’t been struck hundreds of times before.
Verdict: a memorable performance in search of a better script.
More New Off-the-Beaten Track DVDs
Straight A’s (Anna Paquin and Ryan Philippe in a family drama)
Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)