Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul
Directed by James Ponsoldt
Addiction dramas are as common as reality shows and often just as rank. The standard bearers for movies about alcoholics range from The Lost Weekend and Days of Wine and Roses to Leaving Las Vegas with Nicolas Cage at his staggering, Oscar-winning best. Smashed joins the ranks of the winners, mostly because of an unmissable and unforgettable performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Her character, Kate Hannah, is married to Charlie (Breaking Bad's exemplary Aaron Paul) a wannabe composer who likes to get wasted as much as his wife. Charlie, who basically hangs out with his buds all day, believes he can handle his drinking. Kate, who teaches first grade at an L.A. school, is soon disabused of that notion. After projectile vomiting in front of her class, she tries to get off the hook by lying to the principal (a very fine Megan Mullally) and claiming she's pregnant. It's only when the school's vice principal, a recovering alcoholic played with deeply affecting restraint by Parks and Recreation's Nick Offerman, gets Kate to an AA meeting that she sees the need for a change. Kate gets help from a sponsor (The Help Oscar winner Octavia Spencer in a lovely turn), but finds herself increasingly estranged from Charlie. She needs to do this on her own. Smashed covers a lot of familiar ground, but writer-director James Ponsoldt deftly dodges gooey sentiment. Winstead and Paul are dynamite, artfully walking the tightrope between pain and denial. And Winstead, too often relegated to the action-horror game in The Thing, Death Proof, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, is a revelation. With resonant intelligence and healing humor, she reveals Kate right down to her nerve endings. Don't forget Winstead when making a list of the year's Best Actress contenders. Yes, she's that good.
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