The Sundance Review Revue: SMASHED
It’s possible that a movie like James Ponsoldt’s SMASHED takes on a special resonance at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s a film about a hard-partying married couple — Breaking Bad‘s Aaron Paul and Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World‘s Mary Elizabeth Winstead — whose lives are turned upside down when one of them decides to get sober. During Sundance, Park City is practically swimming in booze. Client dinners, cocktail parties, after-parties; there are working distilleries pouring less alcohol than this town right now. It’s probably safe to assume a hefty percentage of the people watching SMASHED were drunk at the time. Is it any wonder the critics dug it so much?
Maybe, Or maybe, as the reviews suggest, SMASHED is simply a powerful and very well-acted film about sobriety, marriage, and love. That certainly seems to be the consensus from the press corps. Tim Grierson from Screen Daily, for example, praised the film’s “low-key, non-judgemental treatment of alcoholism, which allows the audience to initially find the couple’s drunken exploits charming before eventually showing the real danger they’re bringing to themselves.” Acknowledging the long history of cinematic alkies and films about addiction, Grierson credited SMASHED as “a sturdy addition to the genre” that refuses to cast either of its characters as a villain. That could be tricky since one of them, Winstead’s Kate, cleans up her drinking habits while the other, Paul’s Charlie, doesn’t.
Though both actors are drawing strong notices, it’s Winstead who’s getting singled out for particular acclaim, perhaps because her role is so different than most of the lighter fare she’s previously appeared in. Matt Goldberg from Collider.com called it Winstead’s “best performance of her career thus far” and said her work made Kate a believable woman rather than a spokesperson for Alcoholics Anonymous. Simon Abrams from Slant agreed. “Kate’s not an extraordinary or even remarkable character,” he wrote, “but that’s paradoxically what makes Winstead’s performance so good: She disappears into the role, never acting, simply reacting.” Abrams wasn’t totally sold on the rest of the film though; he called the story “contrived” and “thoroughly predictable” in spite of the cast’s stellar acting.
Nathan Rabin from The A.V. Club had similar complaints in a somewhat more positive review of the film. He raved about the film’s “pummeling intensity and bruised emotions” but didn’t care for a subplot involving Kate’s boss (Megan Mullally) and a fake pregnancy (actually a cover story for Kate’s alcohol-induced puking). “Mullally and her sitcom contrivances seems to belong in a sillier, more superficial film, not a brutally powerful drama,” he said.
But despite a few mixed reactions, SMASHED still came out looking like, well, a smash, with several critics, including Chris Bumbray from JoBlo.com citing it as their favorite movie of Sundance ’12. A toast, then, to Paul and Winstead for their outstanding work!
On second thought, nevermind. Let’s pour one out for Twitter instead.
“SMASHED is the best film I’ve seen AT #Sundance.@m_e_winstead does something completely different & delivers her best performance yet.” — Jeff Sneider, Variety
“SMASHED is the best film I’ve seen at Sundance so far, poignant and heartbreaking.” — Amanda Mae Meyncke, Film.com
“SMASHED: Bracing shots of tough stuff. Paul and Winstead great. Offerman Nom-worthy. Neither tediously arduous or frictionlessly banal.” — James Rocchi, MSN Movies
“SMASHED continues trend of great female performances @ #Sundance. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays her alcoholic as a human, not a caricature.” — Matt Patches, Hollywood.com
“Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays cinema’s most adorable alcoholic in SMASHED. She’s also mighty good. #Sundance” — Daniel Fienberg, HitFix
To find more Sundance screenings of SMASHED, go to Sundance.org.