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Smashed (2012)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 3/12/2013

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/21/2013

I like to thing that everyone knows a lot about at least one subject. (I fully realize that I could have said that everyone is an expert at something, but "expert" may have been pushing it a bit.) And every once in a while, you may come across a movie which deals with that subject. This will be a movie which you will watch a little more closely than the typical film, as you'll want to see if the filmmakers get everything right. In another life, I have a background in substance abuse treatment, and thus, it was with rapt attention that I watched Smashed.

Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul) are a young married couple who have at least one thing in common -- they both like to drink. They get drunk most every night, whether at home or at the bar, and their life is one big party. But, Kate, who works as an elementary school teacher, begins to realize that she has a problem when two events occur. First, she goes to work very hungover one day and vomits in front of her class. Her students, and then her co-workers, assume that she's pregnant and she allows this lie to stand. Secondly, while drunk one night, she goes for a ride with a woman who she does not know, smokes crack, and awakens in a parking lot. Dave (Nick Offerman), the assistant principal at Kate's school, approaches her and states that he's smelled alcohol on her. She admits to coming to school hungover, and he reveals that he is in recovery. He takes Kate to her first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, where she meets Jenny (Octavia Spencer), a woman who agrees to help her. Kate likes the idea of sobriety and clarity, but Charlie has no interest in not drinking. Can Kate get sober if Charlie won't join her?

Smashed is a swing and a miss for Writer/Director James Ponsoldt and his Co-Writer Susan Burke. I understand that they weren't making a documentary with Smashed and that some artistic license is allowed, and they did get many things right. When we meet Kate, she doesn't see her drinking as an issue, nor does Charlie, and she seems to love her life. It takes an eye-opening event (or two) to make her realize that she may have a problem and that she could lose her job over it. (Charlie's job is somewhat vague and it's also implied that his family has money.) Kate's first steps (no pun intended) into AA are tentative, as she's not sure that she can give up drinking. She also isn't sure what to make of the AA crowd. The second half of the movie explores two very real situations which confront people in Kate's position. First, it's nearly impossible to achieve/maintain sobriety in an environment which is no supportive. Charlie continues to drink and Kate's mother doesn't understand why Kate would want to stop. Secondly, few people achieve sobriety immediately on their first try and the film shows how people can easily fall back into old habits.

But, Ponsoldt did miss one key point. Someone who drinks as much and as often as we are lead to believe that Kate does can't just quite drinking and not suffer any medical side effects. Individuals in this situation will either go through a medical detoxification program in a hospital or treatment center, or suffer through the process at home. If they choose the latter, which is decidedly ill-advised, they could put themselves at risk of dying. And yet, other than the vomiting, we don't see Kate go through any physical maladies. This nearly ruined the entire movie for me. There didn't have to be any long, drawn-out detox scene, but at least Ponsoldt could have shown the torment these people endure. Instead, we are told that one can suddenly stop drinking, start AA, and everything will be fine.

That stumble aside (and it is a big one), Smashed is a nice little film. The movie runs just over 80 minutes and never gets overly dramatic or involved. It simply paints a portrait of a woman who goes through a very important change in her life. Winstead, wearing little makeup, gives a good performance, as she asked to play many emotions. Paul offers someone who clearly cares for Kate, but is also somewhat scary in his denial. Offerman, playing a character quite different from Ron Swanson on Parks & Recreation, brings a touch of humor as the nerdy Dave. I don't think that Smashed was meant to be anything more than an art-house film which touched on a serious subject and attempted to show the world through one woman's eyes, but a bit more research on Ponsoldt's part would have made it considerably better.

Smashed leads us to believe that alcoholism and a desire to ride a bike go hand-in-hand on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The picture is sharp and clear, showing only slight grain at times and no defects from the source material. Ponsoldt has given the film a subdued look, so we don't get many bright colors. However, the colors do look realistic and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture is somewhat soft at times and the depth is OK for a DVD. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 track which delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a quiet drama, we don't get many notable audio effects here. Street scenes and the moments in the bar do supply noticeable stereo and surround effects. These effects show good separation and the surround effects aren't simply mimicking what we get from the front channels.

The Smashed DVD contains a few extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director James Ponsoldt and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. "Making Smashed" (12 minutes) offers interviews with the director and the cast, who discuss the story, the characters, and some of the filmmaking process. There is also a nice amount of on-set footage here. The actors discuss working with one another and with the director. There isn't much talk of addiction here. "Toronto Film Festival Red Carpet and Q&A" (15 minutes) offers comments from Ponsoldt, Winstead, and Octavia Spencer from the red carpet, and then questios from the audience following a screening. The DVD contains six DELETED SCENES which run about 10 minutes. We get some new scenes here, but two are longer versions of scenes from the finished film. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.