Special Jury Prize, Sundance Film Festival, 2012
When we first meet functioning alcoholic Kate Hannah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), she’s already close to rock bottom. She takes a shot of whiskey to brace herself for a day of teaching first grade. When she vomits at school, a student asks if she’s pregnant. Desperate to disguise her hangover, she lies and says she is. It’s a deception that could cost her her career, but also save her life.
James Ponsoldt’s Smashed traces its heroine’s downward spiral — from smoking crack in a drunken lapse of judgment to an outrageous episode in a convenience store — with insight, daring and profound empathy. While things may seem overwhelmingly bleak for Kate, relief is in sight. Dave (Nick Offerman), the vice-principal at Kate’s school, sees through her act and confesses that he’s also a recovering addict and wants to help. He has a crush on her as well, which complicates his motives. Dave convinces Kate to try a twelve-step program, where she meets Jenny (The Help’s Octavia Spencer), who volunteers to be her sponsor. Kate begins to accept this new path as her sole option. There’s only one problem: Kate’s husband Charlie (Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul) still enjoys getting drunk. How can she do this without him?
With a gritty, unflinching trajectory that calls Half Nelson to mind, Smashed asks us to root for someone who appears to be unredeemable. Ponsoldt takes a long, hard look at the process of overcoming a crippling addiction: the sacrifices, the unfathomable patience and willpower required. Winstead gives a fearless performance as Kate, showing both the recklessness and the self-doubt, the quick defenses and the emptiness. Ultimately, Smashed instills us with a renewed faith in our capacity to change. If Kate can begin to climb up from a hole this deep, there’s hope for the rest of us.
Cameron Bailey, TIFF
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