Mary Elizabeth Winstead has been turning out stellar work for the better part of her short career (she's 27) with fine turns in films as varied as "Death Proof," "The Thing" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World." But none of what's come before will prepare you for her unforgettable and career-defining performance in the Sundance indie drama, "Smashed." If ever there was a vehicle to send her to the Kodak Theatre come early next spring, this is it.
In "Smashed," Winstead plays Kate, a married first grade teacher who also happens to be a raging alcoholic. It doesn't help matters that her husband, Charlie ("Breaking Bad" star Aaron Paul), is one as well.
Unlike so many drunks portrayed on screen, Kate and Charlie are blissfully happy and pretty functional at the beginning of "Smashed." That soon comes to a halt, however, when Kate vomits in front of her class and tells her superior (played by Megan Mullally, in an uncommon dramatic turn) that she's pregnant to cover up the truth that could get her fired. That incident, coupled with a random bout with crack for the first time, causes Kate to go somewhere she never thought she'd end up: Alcoholics Anonymous. Unfortunately her hubby doesn't feel the need to join her on the path to recovery.
From here on in, "Smashed" plays out in AA meetings, where Kate comes to befriend her sponsor (recent Oscar winner Octavia Spencer), all while laying her demons bare in an effort to change her life for the better.
Reading this you'd think you're in for a "feel bad time" should you seek the film out, yet despite dealing with a pretty heavy subject matter, "Smashed" plays across the board as an outside-the-box crowd-pleaser. Foregoing the darkness associated with other films about alcoholism ("Leaving Las Vegas," "Barfly," etc.), "Smashed" instead treats the affliction like it's a step to overcome in growing up.
That's not to say that James F. Ponsoldt's drama trivializes what millions suffer from (far from it). But it does make the struggle relatable so audiences from all walks of life can empathize with Kate's journey. And with Winstead in the lead, you'd be hard pressed not to.