"Smashed" is a Bittersweet Look at the Life of Two Married Alcoholics

Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Classics
October 15th, 2012

"Smashed" is a Bittersweet Look at the Life of Two Married Alcoholics

-- In "Smashed," director James Ponsoldt takes the helm of a full film for only the second time in his career, with the first attempt being "Off the Black" in 2006. He has done several short films and written scripts between full length features, but has never attempted a film as full of emotion and dark comedy as this. The result is a satisfying, bittersweet film that proves that Ponsoldt has a long career ahead of him directing films, if he wants it.

The movie focuses on Kate Hannah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a woman who loves to drink alcohol and is married to Charlie (Aaron Paul), who equally loves to booze it up. When the film begins, the two have already been married an indeterminate amount of time and seemingly are drinking or planning future drinking sessions all the time. They appear to be functional alcoholics at first, though a series of close calls proves that they don't have their habit under control nearly as well as they think they do.

Everything changes one day when Kate, with a terrible hangover, vomits in front of her first grade class. A fellow teacher, Dave (Nick Offerman), assumes it is because she is pregnant. She realizes that this could get her fired, and after the aforementioned close calls with her safety, she decides that something has to give. She makes the decision to get sober, though she doesn't consult Charlie about it. He is supportive of her desire to stop drinking, though he refuses to do so himself. This creates a strain in their relationship, as Charlie is inadvertently tempting Kate to ruin her hard-earned sobriety with his daily chugging at the dinner table.

Meanwhile, she begins to move on with the help of Dave, her AA sponsor Jenny (Octavia Spencer), and her support meetings, where she initially doesn't admit to being an alcoholic. In fact, one of the most poignant scenes in the film is her initial AA meeting speech, where she talks herself into the realization that she is, in fact, an alcoholic. As she moves on, Charlie tries to hold on while still leading his previous partying lifestyle.

The relationship either has to change or end, and neither person is really sure which will happen. They both seem to really love each other, but some of that love comes from a mutual enjoyment of alcohol. Exactly how much of their relationship is based on drinking is what is at the heart of the film and will determine whether or not the couple makes it through Kate's lifestyle changes intact.

Winstead was cast in September 2011, with Paul and co-stars Offerman and Spencer already on board to star in the film, which was co-written by Ponsoldt and Susan Burke. In an interview, she said she took on the role despite the fact that the film had no distribution deal because she was jealous of fellow actors who would only take parts they were passionate about. She feared that is she only took parts for a paycheck, she wouldn't be proud of her body of work. After reading the superb script, she felt that passion and signed on to do the movie.

Principal photography began just days after Winstead signed on, and was completed on October 22, 2011. Ponsoldt and his editors rushed to complete post production on the film so that it could be submitted to the Sundance Film Festival before the cutoff time in November. Not only did they get it submitted in time, but it was accepted for competition, and it went on to win the coveted U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Excellence in Independent Film Producing.

The film was a fan favorite, with several of the stars coming out to Utah to do promotional interviews at Sundance. It entered the competition without a distribution deal but by the time the festival ended, Sony Pictures Classics had struck a distribution deal to release the film in the fall. In the meantime, buzz quickly built due to Winstead's performance, with some even saying that she could gain award nominations for her portrayal.

Since Sundance, the film was also screened at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which is sometimes a good indicator of which films will get Oscar nominations. It was well-received, setting up a hotly-anticipated U.S. release for October 12, 2012. Sony Pictures Classics also announced that it would be released in limited overseas markets in early 2013.