That's part of what makes James Ponsoldt's Smashed so refreshing. Make no mistake, this is a Sundance film up one side and down the other, with all the quirky interludes with dippy folk tunes one would expect. But what separates Smashed from the chafe is how well it works around those interludes to create something that is actually emotionally fulfilling.
While it may seem like it's trying to be a one of those quirky indie comedies we see so many of, Smashed is surprisingly serious, and doesn't pull its punches in its depiction of the dangers of alcohol and substance abuse.
|Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Kate Hannah and Aaron Paul as Charlie Hannah in SMASHED.|
Photo by Oana Marian, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
Smashed treats its characters with dignity and respect, rather than as tools to manipulate the audience or as cartoonish figures to be laughed at. Nor does it take itself too seriously, so it doesn't completely disappear into the inherent sadness of its story. While it has an unfortunate tendency to short change its supporting cast, Winstead's performance is so fully developed and real that the film comes alive through her. She's magnetic even when the film veers into Sundance territory, which to its credit it doesn't do too often. It takes on familiar trappings and techniques of the typical Sundance comedy and pushes them farther, into something more cohesive and satisfying. It overcomes its clumsiness with moments of such grace that its easy to forgive its occasional shortcomings. This may be Winstead's show, but Ponsoldt displays a remarkable restraint that demonstrates a keen directorial instinct. He may only have one other feature under his belt (the 2006 film, Off the Black, starring Nick Nolte as...an alcoholic), but Smashed positions him as a talent to watch.
GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)
SMASHED | Directed by James Ponsoldt | Stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Octavia Spencer, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally | Rated R for alcohol abuse, language, some sexual content and brief drug use | Now playing in select cities. Opens Friday, 11/16, at the Park Terrace in Charlotte, NC, and the a/perture Cinema in Winston-Salem, NC.