Smashed comes up slightly short
Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul. Rated 14A. Opens Friday, October 26, at the International Village Cinemas
There are a lot of earnest, small films being made by young directors these days. That’s good, but lack of budget and visual pizzazz generally throws everything back to script, story, and actors, and Smashed comes up slightly short in these departments.
The film was written by Susan Burke—a youthful standup veteran who loosely based this on her own experiences—along with director James Ponsoldt, maker of a Nick Nolte feature few people saw. Ponsoldt has an instinctive feel for the texture of day-to-day life, and he shows a lot of empathy for his actors. But he slips a little too much rope to Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Kate Hannah, a Los Angeles schoolteacher with a barely hidden drinking problem.
Forever in her shapeless floral dresses and unkempt hair, Kate enjoys catching bands and hitting karaoke bars with soft-natured husband Charlie (Aaron Paul), generally cleaning up in time to play word games with her ardent first-graders. When she has a hung-over upchuck one bad morning, this leads to a funny-sad misunderstanding with her compassionate principal, played by Megan Mullally.
Things are clearer to somewhat geeky coworker Dave (effective Nick Offerman), who invites her to an AA meeting where she meets a lively mother figure (Octavia Spencer) to sub for the real one (Mary Kay Place, for one strong scene).
Not much is made of this connection, though, and there’s plenty of grimy repetition, presumably in the name of realism. The lead performance is sometimes irritating more than engaging, and a few situations get hyped-up more than they need be for what Smashed wants to examine. In the end, I still had little sense of who these people would be without their 80-proof problems, so it’s never quite clear what they’re giving up in the frantic search for an endless good time.