This new low-budgeted (festival-featured) drama from co-scenarist James Ponsoldt may not help Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) quite like Sherrybaby did for Maggie Gyllenhaal or Rachel Getting Married did for Anne Hathaway when it comes to Academy Award consideration. Clearly she is the best thing about Smashed, an ordinary, yet compelling account of alcoholism and the rocky road to recovery.
Winstead's laughing, music-loving Kate Hannah, a schoolteacher with a drinking problem and a similarly inebriated husband, Charlie (Aaron Paul of the well-regarded small-screen series Breaking Bad), has reached a breaking point in her life when using crack.
Kate knows she needs to salvage her life and is aided by her sympathetic, if awkward vice-principal at school, Dave (Nick Offerman) to fulfill this new proactive passion.
Ponsoldt's handling of the material, especially in the early going, isn't validated with the type of resolve to really be enveloped by someone so wounded as Kate. When she speaks aloud at her first support group meeting something takes hold that allows Winstead (whose appeal has been noticed in films like Grindhouse and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World or even Final Destination 3). Through her riveting expression and internalization of Kate, the actress has the support and tools it takes to make the cinematic experience more watchable than initially expected.
Nonetheless from the notion that familiarity in the genre is prevalent, Winstead is able to excel in ways here that reveal the kind of breakthrough turn that Vera Farmiga did under Debra Granik's direction in another portrait (and effects) of addiction, Down To The Bone. Here, the cliches and nomadic qualities of the script can't bog down the vivid convincing portrait where a return to wrongdoing often is intrinsic to the nature of the beast. In addition, capable support is offered by Paul, Offerman and Octavia Spencer as Kate's friend and sponsor, Jenny, in what is unsentimentally uncompromising in a surprisingly sensitive depiction of traipsing well beyond the tipsy.