September 11, 2012 at 12:07 pm #69396
‘Smashed’ premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and won the Special Jury Prize, and the film itself received strong reviews and raves for the leading performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. With this year’s Best Actress race not yet having a clear front-runner, Winstead may just find herself in the hunt this year. Below you’ll find the trailer and some clips from the film which also features a strong supporting cast that have also earned great reviews including Aaron Paul, Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman, Mary Kay Place, and recent Oscar winner Octavia Spencer.September 11, 2012 at 12:14 pm #69398
Here’s Todd McCarthy’s Sundance review for The Hollywood Reporter.
Sharp writing and credibility make James Ponsoldt’s second feature fresh and involving enough to warrant further festival exposure and limited theatrical release.
Park City – An old Hollywood staple, an alcoholic’s journey from a lost weekend through the days of wine and roses, is refitted to the modern generation in Smashed. More than anything an outstanding showcase for the dramatic talents of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, James Ponsoldt’s second feature, after the 2006 Sundance entry Off the Black, which was also about an alcoholic, by its nature includes the obligatory AA meetings, spills off the wagon and strains with loved ones. But its sharp writing and essential credibility make this small, intimate tale fresh and involving enough to warrant further festival exposure and limited theatrical release.
Stories about addiction and attempted recovery from it basically have two possible arcs; either way, one pretty much knows what to expect dramatically, so there is a special burden on the writers and actors to bring new insights and flavors to the table. The most significant and immediately visible twist is making the leading character a smart, attractive young woman who, with her music writer husband Charlie (Aaron Paul), likes to get loaded every night.
Worse than that, Kate Hannah (Winstead) swigs beer with her morning shower and takes a few swigs from a flask in her car before heading in to teach her first grade class in a Los Angeles school. One particularly hung-over morning, she pukes in front of her students and lies that she’s pregnant, a fiction that reaches the principal (Megan Mullally), who could not be more solicitous.
However, the vice principal, Dave (Nick Offerman), is wise to Kate’s ways and gently proposes that she check out his low-key AA group, which has kept him sober for nine years. Facing up to her problem, Kate joins in and particularly bonds with one warm woman (Octavia Spencer), who has replaced alcohol with baking.
It’s a different story at home, though, as Charlie still partakes of a college lifestyle, going to clubs nightly and hanging with buddies. Abstaining doesn’t register with him at all, causing a rift in outlooks that can’t help but send the marriage south. A subsequent school crisis causes Kate to head for the nearest bar, but then no one said the road wouldn’t be bumpy.
Onscreen throughout, Winstead presents an uncustomary image for a young actress these days: She appears virtually unadorned, seemingly without makeup and with a frumpy wardrobe, decidedly non-Hollywood. Kate is sexy and quick-witted and great fun when drinking, any college boy’s dream. But when the enormity of her problems hits her, she doesn’t hesitate to leave all that behind to become a responsible adult, a concept that blindsides her husband.
The role thus asks Winstead to run the full gamut, from game good-time girl and stimulating teacher to shell-shocked morning-after casualty and adamant survivor. She’s terrific at it all, far surpassing the promise she indicated in Death Proof and Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World.
Paul is fine in the more limited role of the fair-weather husband, while the standout supporting turn comes from Offerman, who is hilariously dry, droll and understated as a genuinely helpful colleague who cannot help but lapse into extreme inappropriateness.
Low-budget production values are strong, from cinematographer Tobias Datum’s sharp coverage of relatively unfamiliar near-downtown Los Angeles neighborhoods to an abundant soundtrack.September 11, 2012 at 12:18 pm #69399
Here’s Justin Chang’s review from Variety:
A terrific performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a rock-bottom alcoholic is only one reason to appreciate “Smashed,” an affecting and immersive addiction drama about the unforeseen pitfalls along the road to recovery. Scribe-helmer James Ponsoldt’s sad, funny and strangely exuberant second feature weaves a few plot strands too many as it pushes its protag toward her big moment of cathartic self-reckoning, but is enhanced by a rich, offbeat sense of life teeming in the margins. Distribs would do well to emphasize the picture’s engaging, non-depressive approach to admittedly hard-sell material that will need critical support to get anywhere commercially.
Evincing the same character-driven instincts and knack with actors apparent in his underseen 2006 debut, “Off the Black,” but this time employing a lurching handheld camera to capture the story’s emotional upheaval, Ponsoldt pitches the viewer directly into a typically chaotic morning for Kate (Winstead) and her husband, Charlie (Aaron Paul). Drinking comes as easy and frequent as breathing to this Los Angeles couple, as is made clear when hungover Kate swigs a beer in the shower and then, right before work, takes a few surreptitious sips of whisky from a flask she keeps in her car.
To the viewer’s considerable horror, Kate turns out to be a second-grade schoolteacher, and it’s in her classroom that her latest binge catches up with her in singularly humiliating and professionally problematic fashion. When a second drinking session ends with Kate spending a long night alone on the street, she realizes how low she’s sunk, and eventually agrees to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with her school’s vice principal, Mr. Davies (Nick Offerman), who’s nine years sober.
As Kate bonds with her AA sponsor, Jenny (Octavia Spencer), and takes tentative but effective steps toward sobriety, Ponsoldt’s screenplay (co-written with Susan Burke) sketches a portrait of the forces that nurtured her addiction and now oppose her recovery. Not least among them are Kate’s own frequently sozzled mother (Mary Kay Place) and Charlie, a roguishly handsome layabout more disturbed by his wife’s newfound sense of responsibility than by her habit of boozily wandering the streets.
Ponsoldt’s pic is honest enough to acknowledge that Kate and Charlie’s old life was a lot of fun, characterized by long, woozy bike rides, heavily liquored nights at karaoke bars and pool halls, and plenty of rough but affectionate sex. Suzanne Spangler’s alert editing and a swinging, upbeat score by Eric D. Johnson and Andy Cabic extract humor even from moments that should be, and sometimes still are, properly appalling.
Indeed, “Smashed” is at times almost too entertaining for its own good, and a bit overinclined to spell out its lessons, a flaw mitigated somewhat by the inherently confessional, accountability-driven nature of recovery. A subplot involving Kate’s relationship with the school’s unsuspecting principal (a wonderful Megan Mullally), feels somewhat engineered to precipitate a climactic meltdown, and the film’s extended coda similarly goes out of its way to tie things up.
Overcoming most of these reservations, finally, is the drama’s sheer emotional generosity and the driving force of its lead performance. Most familiar to audiences from her supporting turns in such studio action/fanboy fare as “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and “Grindhouse,” Winstead at last gets to sink her teeth into a meaty role; the performance is effective largely due to the extreme contrast between the smart, articulate and resolved young woman Kate is at her core and the angry, raving drunk she so easily and frighteningly becomes.
The uniformly excellent supporting cast is anchored by Paul as Kate’s unsupportive but sympathetic husband; Spencer, radiating warmth and wisdom; and Offerman, whose burly, straight-laced Mr. Davies is the source of the film’s most unexpected laughs. Tech credits are deliberately on the grungy side, and Kate and Charlie’s shambling L.A. home is the very picture of lived-in messiness.September 11, 2012 at 12:21 pm #69400
Here’s what Lisa Schwarzbaum of EW.com had to say from Sundance (not a review, just a write-up):
Smashed, about a young married couple bound by shared drunkenness, follows in the long cinema-of-addiction dramatic tradition of Days of Wine and Roses and Clean and Sober. But what’s new about this affecting, unsensationalized portrait of addiction, recovery, codependence, setbacks, one-day-at-a-time progress, and their effects on relationships, is the low-keyed energy of the storytelling. This is a drunk’s tale by and for a generation with a high tolerance for humor in the midst of dead seriousness, and a low tolerance both for soapiness and bulls—; it’s also a project shaped by television and Internet sensibilities, with a cast of likable, TV-seasoned actors including Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, Parks and Recreation’s Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, and Mary Kay Place. In an empathetic performance of appealing transparency, former horror-movie scream queen Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Kate, an elementary school teacher who teaches little kids by day and parties hard with her wasted man-boy husband, Charlie (Paul), by night. Their bond of mutual effed-upness is ruptured when Kate seeks 12-step help, encouraged by a clear-eyed colleague (Offerman) who, in his past, hit bottom himself. (The Help’s great Octavia Spencer plays Kate’s down-to-earth sponsor.) Even at crisis points—when Kate wakes up in a heap on a river bank, or when a lie she tells at school to cover her alcoholism has serious consequences—director and co-writer James Ponsoldt sustains a tone of everydayness that enhances the movie’s quiet punch.September 11, 2012 at 12:26 pm #69401
Here’s a small write up from the The Globe and Mail which saw the film at TIFF:
“As a primary-school teacher who begins to think maybe her life has become, um, “unmanageable” when she pukes up a hangover in front of her stunned class, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is boldly and heartbreakingly convincing. It’s not just the hell-and-back trajectory of the well-trod recovery-movie trail that she rides so impressively, but the nuance she brings to a character who might otherwise seem a rote cliché. Married to a chronically adolescent, party-prone rock critic (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul) – who loves her madly but just doesn’t get it – and gingerly navigating those slippery Twelve Steps, Winstead’s Kate is a richly observed and detailed character, and the centre of one of the best getting-straight dramas in years.” – **** out of 4.September 11, 2012 at 12:27 pm #69402
It’s kind of odd to see an endorsement for a performance that barely anyone has seen, let alone for said performance to be the winner of a category full of unseen performances.
I actually know one of MEW’s cousins (maybe they’re second cousins – don’t remember), and that’s how I found out she’s related to Ava Gardner.
When it comes to Oscars, not unlike Martha Marcy May Marlene, she’s going to need critics wins and a SAG nomination would certainly help, since it doesn’t look like voters have a reason to see the film outside of her performance (an unknown director – no one else in the cast seems to be getting attention – why would voters pop this in?).September 11, 2012 at 12:44 pm #69403
^Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally are getting very strong reviews too. And for the record, I’m not endorsing Winstead to win Best Actress, I’m simply saying that she’s getting overlooked when all of these supposed front-runners are getting less than stellar reviews. Knightley, Linney, and even Maggie Smith aren’t exactly earning raves, and since so many assumed they’d be such clear front-runners, this leaves room for an underdog like Winstead to sneak in ala Demian Bichir in Best Actor last year. The film is earning solid to great reviews from both Sundance and now TIFF, so if the critical support is there, she could definitely be a player (like Elizabeth Olsen would’ve been for ‘MMMM’ had it come out this year instead of last year which was a crowded field).September 11, 2012 at 12:47 pm #69404
P.S.- I edited the title, which I think was what made you feel I was endorsing her win, lol.September 11, 2012 at 12:49 pm #69405
Thanks for the clarification.September 11, 2012 at 12:57 pm #69406
Thanks for starting this thread Tye! There could be room for her, ala Olsen or for the higher-profile Shailene Woodley. I guess we’ll see, but it’s looking (as always with me) like this supposed “weak” field could be quite crowded down the stretch.September 11, 2012 at 1:05 pm #69407
^True, there are still unseen performances to come, but let’s get ALL of our ducks in a row, shall we? In all fairness, higher profile or not, Winstead seems to be getting better reviews than Knightley, Linney, and several other best actress contenders (and though Hunt and Lawrence are receiving great reviews, and even raves for Lawrence, they both still have the chance of category confusion given that no one has yet to solidly say whether they’re campaigning in lead or supporting).September 11, 2012 at 1:13 pm #69408
There’s always a chance as well that an eleventh hour candidate suddenly emerges as a contender. Far better this way imo, than an early favorite that rides the accolades all the way to the podium.
I’d rather see this than SLPB, and a collection of other Oscar potential films.September 11, 2012 at 1:22 pm #69409
‘Silver Linings Playbook’ is one of the most anticipated of the year for me. Even before I read the reviews.September 11, 2012 at 1:24 pm #69410
I’ve seen this. She’s decent, but I doubt the film will rise to any level of prominence to expect her to have much of a chance barring a surprise major critics’ award.
This is being released by Sony Classics, which later in the race has both Amour and Rust and Bone to support for best actress.
This opens shortly, so we’ll get a better sense when that happens.
I’d put her on a long list for sure, but not among the frontrunners at this point.