Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Directed by James Ponsoldt and written by Ponsoldt and Susan Burke, Smashed is the story of a schoolteacher who decides to get sober as she deals with her alcoholism as well as the aspects of her troubled life including her husband who is also an alcoholic. The film is an exploration into a woman’s attempt to get sober as she also tries to deal with the world around her where her life had been driven by alcohol. Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Octavia Spencer, Megan Mullally, and Nick Offerman. Smashed is an extraordinary film from James Ponsoldt.

It’s a film that explores the world of a young woman whose drinking has finally gotten her to do some very dumb things where she would find herself waking up in places she doesn’t know or being hung-over in class where she actually vomited in front of her students. That moment along with other strange things forces her to confront the fact that she’s an alcoholic as she gets help from her vice-principal Dave (Nick Offerman) to go meetings as she also deals with the fact that her husband is also an alcoholic. During the course of the film, Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) tries to maintain her sobriety with help from Dave and a recovering alcoholic named Jenny (Octavia Spencer) as the latter becomes her sponsor. While Hannah’s husband Charlie (Aaron Paul) tries to be supportive, he continues to drink which causes problems into the relationship as Hannah’s need to be honest would finally cause more problems with her own life.

The film’s screenplay doesn’t have much of a plot as it’s more of a character study about this woman and her battle with alcoholism as she struggles to maintain her sobriety. Even as she admits to lying to her students by accident and later to her principal Mrs. Barnes (Megan Mullally) that she’s pregnant as she is later consumed with guilt over what she’s done. While Dave, who is also a recovering alcoholic whose been sober for nine years, is the first to notice Kate’s problems. He is also the one that offers her help while admitting to having his own issues trying to meet women which shows Kate that even maintaining sobriety is hard work. Notably as she’s forced to meet with her estranged mother (Mary Kay Place) as well as Charlie’s own drinking where she questions him about him really being supportive that would eventually cause some problems with the relationship.

James Ponsoldt’s direction is very engaging in the way he explores a woman’s struggles to becomes sober as Ponsoldt goes for a hand-held, cinema-verite style to make it feel as realistic as possible. Even as the drama gets intense that includes a scene of a drunk Kate walking to a nearby convenience store to buy alcohol at two in the morning where the clerk refuses to sell it to her because it’s against the law. Yet, a lot of the presentation is very simple in its framing as well as some scenes where Kate and Charlie ride bicycles through the city where they would be drunk early in the film. Even in the AA meetings where Ponsoldt keeps the direction very simple without the need to embellish and just keep it simple. Even as things would intensify in the course of the film where Kate struggles with her sobriety and the fact that she is an alcoholic where she realizes she needs to face up some responsibilities. Even as it would affect many parts of her life including her marriage. Overall, Ponsoldt creates a very poignant yet mesmerizing film about a woman’s struggle with alcoholism and her need to become sober.

Cinematographer Tobias Datum does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography from the nighttime exteriors of the locations in Los Angeles to the look of the bars and places the characters go to. Editor Suzanne Spengler does fantastic work with the editing to play up some of the chaos in the drama with some straight cuts as well as using some stylish cuts to help structure the story and create some abrupt moments. Production designer Linda Sena and art director Sarah M. Pott do nice work with the set pieces from the classroom that Kate teaches to the bars and meetings that she goes to.

Costume designer Diaz Jacobs does terrific work with the costumes as it‘s mostly casual to play up the personality of the characters. Sound editor Ryan Collins does superb work with the sound to play out the atmosphere of the bars as well as the quietness of the AA meetings. The film’s music by Eric D. Johnson and Andy Cabic is wonderful as it features a largely indie-folk score to play out the drama while music supervisors Tiffany Anders and Lukas Barry bring in music that is similar to the score that includes pieces by Bill Callahan and Linda & Richard Thompson.

The casting by Kim Coleman and Avy Kaufman is brilliant for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable small performances from Kyle Gallner as Charlie’s brother Owen and Mary Kay Place as Kate’s estranged mother Rochelle. Megan Mullally is terrific as the school principal Mrs. Barnes who wonders what is going on with Kate as she think she’s pregnant until she learns the truth. Nick Offerman is excellent as Kate’s co-worker Dave who learns about her problems as he tries to help her out while revealing his own struggles in being sober. Octavia Spencer is amazing as Kate’s sponsor Jenny who helps her with being sober as well as tell her about the struggles that goes on. Aaron Paul is fantastic as Kate’s husband Charlie as a man who loves his wife as he hard time not drinking without her as he wants to be supportive but is afraid of how much she might change.

Finally, there’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead in a remarkable performance as Kate as a woman whose alcoholism has finally gotten out of control as she tries to be sober. Winstead’s performance is quite charming and engaging at times but also intense in the way she can act like a very crazed drunk who can be mean and confrontational. It’s definitely a performance that is unforgettable as well as a true break-out moment for Winstead.

Smashed is a phenomenal film from James Ponsoldt that features an incredible performance from Mary Elizabeth Winstead. The film isn’t just a very realistic yet harrowing look into the world of alcoholism but also to showcase a woman’s struggle to be honest with herself and to be sober. Even as it showcases the lows that she goes through as well as deal with her husband’s own alcoholism. In the end, Smashed is a sensational film from James Ponsoldt.

James Ponsoldt Films: (Off the Black) - The Spectacular Now - The End of the Tour - (The Circle (2017 film)

© thevoid99 2013


ruth said...

I somehow thought this is a serious drama, but then I saw Nick Offerman so it's got to have a bit of comedy then. I've been hearing lots of good things about this one, I should watch this at some point. Great review Steven!

thevoid99 said...

This is really intense but unforgettable film as Nick Offerman is really superb in a dramatic role. He does have a few funny moments but it's in a very subtle manner.