Mary Elizabeth Winstead is out to prove she’s more than Scott Pilgrim’s cartoon-girlfriend come to life. Here, she’s Kate, an alcoholic schoolteacher in perpetual beer buzz. When she pukes in front of her first graders, rumors of her pregnancy inspire her principal (Megan Mullally) to play mommy, while Nick Offerman makes a pun out of the title “Vice” Principal, and invites Kate to AA.
Her husband, played by Emmy-magnet Aaron Paul (AMC’s Breaking Bad, Here), is a writer who drinks as a matter of course, so if she wants to get clean, she has to do it while he’s blasted in her periphery. Sobriety and loneliness are quiet values to perform and cast against Paul it’s no wonder Winstead’s bringing her A+ game. She underplays so hard she’s bound to create buzz.
Kate’s detoxing is so astoundingly undramatic it’s almost as if she’s struggling against boredom instead of addiction. Drinking was fun, and the good in her marriage was cemented by a shared love for getting plastered, so even her foundation lacks any bedrock in the now-abstemious light of day. Kate’s best line about drinking was an admission she was an adorable drunk—that’s not a masterful explanation for why a person might become an alcoholic, but the way it gestures to her hopes for herself is perfectly pointed and quietly profound.
Smashed isn’t just about getting sober, it enacts sobriety with a fidelity that makes you want to rattle your cage—its provocations are as surprising as affecting. It seems maturity lacks melodrama and requires sincerity, and Smashed achieves it.