This is a film about alcoholism. This is a film about love. Or this is a film about love that has formed through alcoholism, a love that needs to be drunk to survive. It is somewhat difficult to figure out which.
Smashed tells the story of Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul), a young married couple who get smashed on a pretty much everyday basis. Kate’s drinking leads her into some unpleasant and humiliating situations to the point where she finally decides to quit and join AA. Charlie continues drinking. Difficulty ensues.
Drunkenness can be a little black and white in narratives; it tends towards either comedy or tragedy and rarely falls between. There can be the formidable, violent alcoholic or the loveable, roguish drunk. What if the alcoholic is a young, attractive, twenty-something school teacher? Then that is unusual territory, which makes this a somewhat unusual film. Its tone is that of a drama with the kind of playful façade of a comedy. Kate often behaves atrociously but we never dislike her. She is neither hero nor villain, being perhaps just simply human. Winstead renders Kate with highly effective realism, her performance giving the film the emotional core without which it would likely seem quite empty.
The film hangs on its authentic depiction of its two central themes; love and addiction. Kate and Charlie’s relationship seems as healthy as any other, apart from all the drinking. They represent the kind of habitual comfort of a long term relationship, while also ultimately showing the fallibility of love. For this reason, the understated ending is highly poignant, but inevitable. Both Winstead and Paul give commendable performances throughout.
The film could not be called didactic. Sobriety does not solve all of Kate’s problems, but rather creates new ones. Perhaps, at its core, this is a film about the ambiguity of life. Life is not black and white, in the way that addiction isn’t, or love isn’t. For one obstacle overcome there will be several laying in wait. This may give the impression that Smashed is a cynical film, yet somehow it isn’t. There is a truth to it that is oddly uplifting.
Smashed is released on 21st December 2012