Kate and Charlie are married living in Los Angeles; they are played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul. They are a young attractive couple who have a lot of fun. But they are both big drinkers. Kate wakes up hungover and needs a couple of drinks in the morning to get her started. She teaches elementary school and her kids love her. She throws up in the classroom and she explains it by saying she is pregnant. But she tells the truth to one of her colleagues, Dave (played by Nick Offerman, of TV's Parks and Recreation. She scares herself soon after when she ends up smoking crack, and she starts to think she needs to stop drinking. After things get even worse, she finally reaches a crisis. At work, Dave tells her that he is a recovering alcoholic, and he takes her to an AA meeting. Kate starts with the program, and she gets into it. This causes tension between her and Charlie, because he is still drinking, and so they are not having much fun together. Kate finds a sponsor, Jenny (played by Octavia Spencer), in AA who helps her come to terms with her life. But she continues with her lie at work about being pregnant, and that means lying to both her boss (played by Megan Mullally) and the children in her class. Eventually, she needs to be honest with them, but this gets her into trouble, and she loses her job. That leads to a relapse and even greater problems in her marriage.
Smashed is a short movie at 81 minutes, so it is easy to watch. The acting is powerful and the camerawork is mostly handheld, which makes it all feel spontaneous and real. We see Kate struggle with her need to drink and there are recreations of some AA meetings. Kate is not completely sold on all the ideas in AA but she finds it useful. On a visit to her mother, we see how Kate learned from her family to deal with all her problems by drinking. The relationship between Kate and Charlie is really strong and the connection between them comes through very clearly, which makes their fights all the more upsetting. The strength of the movie is in giving a believable portrayal of what it is like for a young woman to come to terms with her dependence on alcohol and overcome it. While it is obviously very difficult for Mary, it might still be a bit too optimistic, showing only one relapse. Very often people have more setbacks than that. Maybe it is good not to give too grim a picture of the recovery process.
© 2014 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York