Review: Smashed (Ponsoldt, 2012)

Courtesy of the Sundance Institute archives

Courtesy of the Sundance Institute archives

I swear I don’t just watch Sundance movies. The fact that this film was a Special Jury Winner (for “Excellence in Independent Film Producing”) in the 2012 film festival is pure coincidence.

The movie stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead (I can’t believe she’s the same girl who plays Ramona, opposite Michael Cera in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and Aaron Paul (from Breaking Bad and one of my favorite 2014 Sundance films, Hellion). Winstead and Paul play a sloshed couple whose marriage is tested when one of them decides to go sober.

The first thought I had when I watched the movie was that it felt familiar–not because it was a familiar narrative, per se, but because it reminded me of a short story I had just read called “Lush,” by Bradford Morrow, also centered around a marriage of alcoholics, though otherwise the plots are completely different. About his story, Morrow says that he “wanted to write about the fragility of redemption” and concludes that “[e]ven our smallest decisions are vast by implication.” I think the same could be said about Smashed–it’s an uncertain, tense film that conveys the fragility of recovery, or, to borrow Morrow’s word, redemption. It’s not a feel-good story, and it speaks the truth about life when it shows how precariously some of us are balanced on our little ledge of normalcy. I also remember how Raymond Carver, who is refreshingly honest about his former alcoholism, once said in an interview with the Paris Review, “If you want the truth, I’m prouder of that, that I’ve quit drinking, than I am of anything in my life.” Of course, it’s not just a movie about alcoholism. But then, no good movie is only about what it’s about.

My one quibble (I always have one quibble): There was one scene, or maybe parts of several scenes, where I felt a little popped out of the movie by Winstead’s acting. It was typically when her character was very drunk. It’s not that her depiction didn’t seem accurate–when I tested my feeling, I admit that it recalled to me moments when I had been drunk–but just that she sometimes reminded me of someone in an acting class.