Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Smashed [2012]

MPAA (R)  Roger Ebert (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
Roger Ebert's listing

Smashed (directed and cowritten by James Pondsoldt along with Susan Burke) is an excellent movie geared toward young adults that could serve as a useful reminder that alcoholism is a disease that doesn't just effect "middle aged" or otherwise "old people."
Kate (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (played by Aaron Paul) are two quite happily married college-educated 20 somethings starting out life in L.A.  She's a school teacher, he's a music critic.  They probably met in a bar.  They're fun together.  They clearly like each other.  One gets the sense that when they are out together "clubbing" (and he's technically "at work") they're probably _really fun_ to be around.  It's just it becomes clear very quickly ... there's more going on.

What do I mean?  Well when they wake up in the morning after a night out, she's wet the bed ... again.  To deal with her hangover, she finishes-off the beer she left on the table from the previous night before stepping into the shower.  Then before getting out of the car when she arrives at work (remember, she's a school teacher, teaching 3rd grade) she takes a swig out of flask she keeps in the glove compartment.

It all seems actually like a regular start of the day for the two.  Charlie, who after all, reviews bands and therefore actually "works mostly at night" doesn't have to get-up that early in the morning.  So he honestly sees "changes the sheets" in the morning for her, who has to rush out to work, as "part of his morning routine."  That stale beer that she finishes off before stepping into the shower may take a bit of the edge of a throbbing hangover that she might feel getting up, and the swig in the school parking lot may give her a bit of "liquid courage" to face the rambunctious 3rd graders that await her. 

However, this turns out to _not_ be an ordinary morning for Kate.  Life's caught up to her.  In the midst of a mathematics drill with her 3rd graders, she suddenly has to heave ... and vomits in front of them, missing the little plastic garbage can next to her desk by a few inches.  "Teacher are you pregnant... Mommy was throwing-up when she was expecting my little sister."  Without an excuse, Kate ... and the rest of the movie follows ...

The event described would probably shake-up most people.  After all, no one particularly likes lying to kids.  Additionally, she gets called-out rather quickly by the assistant principal Davies (played by Nick Offerman) who has to step-in to take her class and is a recovering alcoholic himself.  A number of other things happen soon afterwards to solidify Kate's realization that she's got a problem.  And yes, she does take a chance with going to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

However what makes the film is what follows.  Entering into AA is famously only the first step in a 12-step recovery process and Kate hasn't been living in a vacuum.  She's had "a life," some of which we have seen, other aspects of which are only referred to.  She has relationships: a boss (Principal Barnes played by Megan Mullaly), coworkers most notable of which is that assistant principal Davies (who we find out still has his own issues), then of course there's her husband who's basically a good guy and even more or less supportive though he'd really prefer that she'd remain his #1 drinking buddy and then she has a mother (played by Mary Kay Place) who we meet later on.  Kate comes also to have an AA sponsor (played by Octavia Spenser).

And there are still definitely challenges, notably an entire school including all those third graders who think she's having a baby.  The adults would normally understand, right?  But kids... and parents ... and a not completely informed boss forced to deal with very upset parents ... and ... you get the picture...   Yup, it's a challenge to come to come to terms with all the ramifications of one's past addiction and the lies told to keep it going ...

So what we have here is a nice, simple and certainly accessible story to a new generation about what it takes to fix one's life if one comes to find that addiction's been part of it.  Good job!

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