In films, alcoholism is rarely treated as the crippling, devastating disease that it is. It’s oftentimes romanticized or portrayed as some quirk for comedic aspects. A lot of diseases and mental illnesses are treated this way on screen. There are some great films about alcoholism that take it seriously, like Lost Weekend and Under the Volcano. But for the most part films tend to leave out the lies, shame, and heaps of ruin laid on the alcoholic and their family. James Ponsoldt‘s Smashed manages to find the perfect balance between a romantic comedy and a compelling study of a relationship fueled by booze. More on Sony Pictures Classics’ Smashed Blu-ray after the jump.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul star as Charlie and Kate, a married couple whose relationship is brewed in love and trust and soaked in alcohol. They drink and laugh together, then drink some more to kill the hangover. Kate is a 1st grade teacher and not against swigging whiskey from a flask in the school parking lot to balance herself out. When she pukes in front of her class, her pregnancy excuse sets off a chain reaction that has explosive results further down the road.
The vice-principal, Mr. Davies (Nick Offerman), catches Kate in her lie. When she confesses that she was really hungover, he comes clean that he saw her downing whiskey in the parking lot. Turns out, he’s nine years sober and can recognize the alcoholic behind her big, charming eyes. He convinces her to join AA, much to the dislike of Charlie. He writes music reviews and lives off his wealthy parents, so he’s down with drinking on the job and continuing their saturated relationship. When Kate sobers up for real, with the help of her sponsor Octavia Spencer, she’s forced to deal with all of the mistakes she made while hammered. The tricky thing about alcohol is that you never deal with your shattered life when you’re drunk and feel invincible. Just like in real life, shit doesn’t really hit the fan until Kate sobers up.
Director James Ponsoldt, who co-wrote the script with Susan Burke after the two exchanged embarrassing drunk stories, gives Winstead and Paul plenty of room to flex their muscles. He explains in the making of special feature that he allowed for all of the actors to improvise as they saw fit. Anyone who watches Breaking Bad knows Paul can expertly play an addict and handle all of the emotional turmoil that kinda role entails. Here he’s more of a loving, almost naive character – one who can certainly handle his liquor more than his wife. He sees nothing wrong with getting slowly drunk during the day and playing croquette under the influence at night. Offerman is also excellent and one of the film’s greatest laugh-out-loud moments is reserved for him. Octavia Spencer, like she did in The Help, chews up every scene she’s in.
This is Winstead’s show though. Her rocky road to sobriety sees her running a delicate balancing act of emotions – all of them portrayed with compelling honestly. It sounds easy, but acting drunk is wicked hard. I imagine it’s as hard as trying to act sober when you’re drunk. In the behind the scenes feature the director talks about how intense Winstead’s approach was. She’d emotionally exert herself and if that didn’t work, she’d simply spin around in circles to make herself dizzy. Imagine repeating that process for several takes? Winstead gives her entire self to the role of Kate and it’s altogether heartbreaking and uplifting.
Smashed is a film that treats alcoholism and sobriety seriously and in a tasteful manner. Sure it feels like it glosses over the difficulties of alcoholism in parts (c’mon, it’s only 90 minutes), but the parts it does cover are done respectfully and honestly. The Blu-ray has some nice chasers too.
Sony Pictures Classics presents Smashed in 1080p HD 1.85:1 widescreen with 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The HD transfer is clean, crisp, and free of any defects. It’s a solid transfer that reflects the film’s hazy feel. While the film’s sound design doesn’t offer much in the way of immersion, karaoke bar and classrooms utilize the 5.1 nicely.
The audio commentary with director James Ponsoldt and Winstead is lively and covers much of the standard information typically present in these tracks. Some of the more entertaining information involves “drinking” in the film and Winstead’s nuances.
Making Smashed (12:00) features cast and crew discussing the basics of the film. Many of them talk about the benefits of working on an independent feature and how they approached such challenging material.
Toronto Film Festival Red Carpet and Q&A (14:00) features Winstead, Ponsoldt, and Spencer answering questions on TIFF’s red carpet and after the film’s premiere.
The 10 minutes of deleted scenes are mainly extended versions of scenes from the film, including the Santa’s Village, classroom, and karaoke scenes.
Trailer and previews for other releases.