The worst part of waking up is a virulent hangover in your cup. James Ponsoldt conveys this with painful efficiency in Smashed, a forthright exploration of alcoholism clipped by its own rhetoric. Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul) are young, employed homeowners with a fun-filled relationship — just so happens that all their good times live at the bottom of a bottle. While Charlie seems to have the heavy boozing (mostly) in check, Kate, a gifted schoolteacher, is deteriorating at a scary rate — one second she’s belting out karaoke, the next she’s DUI and smoking rock with vagrants.
Winstead, earning well-deserved attention for this role, is eerily effective at navigating the corridors of Kate’s troubling sickness, but it’s Ponsoldt’s framing of her recovery that’s inconsistent. Friends from rehab, like sponsor Jenny (Octavia Spencer) and damaged-goods coworker Dave (a heartbreaking Nick Offerman), facilitate Kate’s personal progress, but the movie fumbles with the gash her “boring new life” rips in her marriage. Charlie is never afforded additional dimensions, which lends a sterility to many of the interactions he has with his vulnerable wife. The couple’s ultimate based-on-booze blowout makes for a juicy indie moment, but it’s nearly for show — we also wanted to hear what was said the morning after.