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  Smashed The Demon Drink
Year: 2012
Director: James Ponsoldt
Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Octavia Spencer, Mary Kay Place, Kyle Gallner, Mackenzie Davis, Bree Turner, Brad Carter, Barrett Shuler, Rene Rivera, Richmond Arquette, David Grammer, Ron Lynch
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is married to Charlie (Aaron Paul), and she often wakes up beside him these days having wet the bed and with a raging hangover. The only cure for that is more drink, or so she thinks, so she'll take a swig in the shower or add a little booze to her morning coffee, even a small tipple before she goes into work, she doesn't think it's an issue, she just likes to have a good time. However, today there's an incident which is difficult to get past, and will escalate into something more: Kate throws up in front of her class, and as their teacher, has to make up an excuse fast...

The excuse she invents, or is suggested to her by one of the little girls, is that she is pregnant, which she isn't, she's simply the worse for wear the morning after a binge. The subject of alcoholism is one which the movies return to time and again, which is valid for drama, though after the likes of The Lost Weekend, Days of Wine and Roses or Clean and Sober you may be contemplating what else there was to say on it. However, as long as there are people who cannot hold their drink, there will be filmmakers making projects about them, and if you really had to create yet another, Smashed was as good as many.

If not better in places, mainly thanks to a powerhouse performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead; in the year that Denzel Washington won admiration for playing an alcoholic pilot in Flight, she was somewhat overlooked, especially as her movie didn't have a hair-raising plane crash sequence in it to grab the attention, but in this quieter effort she was just as worthy of praise. In this, it was more the experience recognisable to most alcoholics which was on the agenda: getting drunk too often, not being able to function anymore, realising you have a problem, the taking steps to do something about it, the essential plot of many a TV drama in fact, never mind a production intended for the big screen.

For the most part, director and co-writer James Ponsoldt managed to avoid the televisual clich├ęs which might have dragged down the emotions, although Kate does say at one point "What's that supposed to mean?" (or something like it), which it is de rigueur for characters to say in issue dramas during the equally compulsory arguments. To try and take this out of the land of seen-it-all-before, they added humour, so we are presumably intended to find Kate's hopeless bluffing about her non-existent pregancy funny, although it's the laughter of the painfful wince and cringe rather than any great guffaw that you will be indulging in, if indeed you laugh at this at all.

The film sees just about every character as a bunch of problems, and some of them cope better than others. Kate admits to her co-worker Dave (Nick Offerman) of the actual state of affairs, and as a stroke of luck he can help, introducing her to his Alcoholics Anonymous meeting: he's nine years sober, and has a few war stories of his own. So there are two tensions here, one between Kate and Dave, who in a ridiculous scene admits he has feelings for the woman which she is not interested in reciprocating, and between Kate and Charlie, who continues to drink even as she tries to give up, thus driving a wedge between them. Just as well, you might think, in light of the way they both urged each other on to new heights of inebriated behaviour, though that doesn't make the situation any the less painful for her, something captured by Winstead in a style that could have been over the top and histrionic, but is held in check by a her truly getting to grips with the themes scene by scene. If it doesn't quite pack the emotional wallop intended, it is accomplished. Music by Andy Cabic and Eric D. Johnson.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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