Kate Hannah is a pretty, 20-something primary school teacher, with a husband at home and seemingly fun life. Like most people her age she enjoys having a good time, sometimes to an excess…
Unlike most people she also enjoys a sip of whisky while she brushes her teeth and in the parking lot before she heads to class. On paper she’s an alcoholic, on-screen she’s an alcoholic but she’s not a victim, she’s just having a really good time. When Kate vomits in front of her class, the kids assume that she’s pregnant. Kate goes along with it and before she knows it she’s been summoned to the Principal’s office and given the rest of the day off. The lie only goes so far when her co-worker Dave reveals that he’d seen her drinking. Instead of reporting her Dave becomes her confident. He’s been sober for years and still attends AA meetings. Needless to say the road to being sober isn’t easy, but this film bravely shows the appealing side of getting sober and asks some serious questions about our stagnant views on alcoholics in general. Does it become a problem only when someone hits rock bottom? Vomiting in front of her class didn’t do it, smoking crack and passing out wasn’t a problem either – but after another messy night Kate decides to attend AA. It’s the least she can do for herself she tells her husband, and drinking buddy, Charlie. He continues to drink but finds her dry stint boring, nonetheless he supports her in his own way, accompanying her to her mothers house (also an alcoholic) and reasoning with Kate to tell the truth after colleagues throw her a baby shower, and her class begin to challenge her pregnancy status. By the end of it Kate is forced to make some serious decisions in order to give herself a chance.
The strength of this seemingly simplistic story comes from the nuanced deliveries from the small supporting cast. Octavia Spencer makes an appearance as a recovering alcoholic and Kate’s mentor. She’s direct and the kind of person Kate needs to stay sharp. Nick Offerman as her colleague Dave also fights Kate’s corner, but has his own seedy expectations for getting Kate straight, most of which is to a humorous effect but still creepy; Megan Mullally‘s Principal is unable or willing to understand Kate’s situation where as her mother (played wonderfully by Mary Kay Place) is reluctant to get on board with her daughter’s decision to leave the party. It’s a question addressed time and time again – when Kate is relaying her story to the AA group, she laments over the many highs she experienced while drinking.
I have to admit then when I started watching Smashed I was ready to hate it. Everything about it just seemed so contrived, even for a film. By the end of it I found myself appreciating what it was trying to do and the way it tried to do it. Kate and Charlie unabashedly express their love for each other by accepting the low points to their addictions and moving on. They function like most alcoholics do, minus the depressing and emotionally draining trappings that audiences are usually subjected to.
Mary-Elizabeth Winstead brings a fearless, charming quality to Kate, and Aaron Paul is similarly appealing as her devoted husband Charlie. This isn’t a film where we are compelled empathise with the protagonist, but instead contributes a more rounded view of what it may look like to be an alcoholic.