After a night of sweet drinking with her husband Charlie (Aaron Paul), first grade teacher Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) goes to work still a little drunk and very hungover, which results in her vomiting in front of her class. This is just one of the numerous problems that keep surfacing as a result to her alcoholism. Noticing the detrimental life that she is leading, Kate decides to accept her coworker Dave’s (Nick Offerman) offer to attend an AA meeting. In there she meets Jenny (Octavia Spencer) and with her help attempts to rehabilitate herself. Her mild success is however constantly challenged by her husband’s continual alcoholism, which increasingly possess a bigger chance at her reverting back to her former self.
I am going to come right out and say that Mary Elizabeth Winstead has delivered the best performance by any actor/actress I have seen all year. She is absolutely extraordinary in Smashed. The aspect that makes her character’s story particularly affecting and powerful is how empathetic it is. From the beginning we are drawn to Kate’s easy going nature, palpable care for both her husband and her students, and more importantly her self-awareness. It is rare to find a character that chooses to better herself for herself. Films that deal with some form of addiction depict a person’s act to rehabilitate as a means to satisfy someone else. In Smashed, Kate want to sober up because she is seeing how much damage her drinking has on her life. She knows that she could do better and that at this point in her life the idea of drinking has become nothing but an unwanted and unfulfilling prospect.
There is just a devastating vulnerability present in Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s performance that I personally found incredibly compelling. Kate showcased a certain confidence in most of the stuff she does, but in those moments where she exposes herself we see a person damaged by her circumstances. The way Winstead become so raw is instantly affecting. Those moments in the AA meetings where she the delivers talks about her addiction and her life, she will bring you to tears. The sincerity is so palpable and humanistic that you not only believe everything she says, but also are inspired to do better for yourself. Honesty may yield a lot of suffering but as the film shows it can also deliver the type of happiness that is rarely experienced. It is that type of happiness which hurts and reveals something about who you are as a person that perhaps not even you knew about.
In contrast to Mary Elizabeth Winstead we have Aaron Paul’s character who turns out to be even more heartbreaking. Paul is a marvellous actor as anyone who watches Breaking Bad can attest to, but in Smashed he presents something else entirely. Charlie is not like Jesse Pinkman in the slightest. He comes from a different background and his relationship to his wife is one driving by a shared love for having fun while getting really drunk. What’s really fascinating is the manner in which he affects Kate’s recovery. He never tells her not to do anything, but through his continual drinking ends up halting and hurting her even more. There are a couple of confrontations scenes between the two that feel so real and raw it is almost uncomfortable to witness. The chemistry between them is so present that you want him to support her completely, to realize that love is a two-sided road. Aaron Paul really nails this performance and makes me excited to see what he’ll do next.
Smashed is without a doubt one of the most exceptional films I’ve seen in a long time. Director James Ponsoldt has crafted a beautifully realized and eternally affecting little picture. His presentation of alcoholism in conjunction to marriage, work and basic day to day life is one driven by honesty and a desire to explore human nature. The film explores addiction in a respectful manner and doesn’t overtly dramatize things to create effect. Instead he has casted two brilliant actors two embody these troubled characters and brings the message forward. While Aaron Paul is quite good, Smashed belongs to Mary Elizabeth Winstead and her incredible performance. She really transforms herself into this character and gives us a portrait that will devastate us as much as it will inspire us. Her performance is a true revelation and more than receive an Oscar, it is a performance that everyone should witness and experience.