Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Drunk Love

Smashed       Final Cut Score: 88%

Despite the fact it's a micro-budgeted indie, don't discount the likelihood that Smashed will be heard from in early 2013. Not necessarily for its overall finish but for one of the top performances of 2012.

While Aaron Paul would be the assumed centerpiece based on his Breaking Bad cachet, it's Paul's partner, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, that commands the picture, delivering a Oscar-caliber portrayal of a woman teetering on the edge of an alcoholic abyss.

Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) plays Kate, a first-grade teacher with the self-destructive habit of drinking herself into oblivion. So much so she heaves in front of her class following a night of debauchery of quickly-emptied liquor bottles. What's an alcoholic to do? Lie of course. Claiming to be pregnant to her school's principal (a fabulous Megan Mullally), Kate dips out of class only to imbibe some more upon exiting the academic institution.

Her hubby, Charlie (a strong Paul), is nearly her equal when it comes to sucking back the beverages. The part-time writer, full-time slacker is the very definition of an enabler as the pair get wasted nightly, wasting their collective lives away.

With the aid of an understanding - and creepy - co-worker (a gloriously low-key Nick Offerman, Mullally's real life husband), Kate decides to go stone-cold sober, attending AA meetings and gaining an Oscar-sporting sponsor in Octavia Spencer. While Kate begins the process of owning up to her dependency issues, Charlie continues to get loaded, creating a dose of conflict at their hipster L.A. homestead.

Keeping his cameras locked in tight throughout, enhancing the film's out-of-control arura, it's an accomplished debut for director James Ponsoldt with a tidy 85 minute runtime. Ponsolt and co-writer Susan Burke's screenplay wanders into sensational territory with the sheer amount of drinking at times: Kate taking a swig of beer as she showers, draining every last drop of liquor as she leaves for work, guzzling from a flask before entering the classroom; just a dash of subtlety perchance?

But Winstead grounds the film with an organic effort, displaying a rawness of emotion that allows you to empathize with her dangerously addicted character. Winstead's performance is sure to be remembered come awards season, it packs more punch than a bottle of Bacardi 151.

Both shaken and stirred.