Smashed is a simple type of film that is elevated by the material and actors it has to work with. The film found initial success at the Sundance Film Festival, was picked up and made its way to a limited theatrical release, and is now available on Blu-ray for everyone to check out. It is definitely a film that I was trying to champion as 2012 came to an end, because it worked for me much better than another certain high profile film, with a big actor, struggling with addiction. Smashed has a honest quality to it, which brought the film to a realistic level for me and made me appreciate it quite a bit. Continue on to hear more of my thoughts on the film as well as how solid I think the Blu-ray is.
A married couple, whose bond is built on a mutual love of alcohol, gets their relationship put to the test when the wife decides to get sober. Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as Kate, an elementary school teacher who finds herself sinking lower and lower, reaching a point where she is forced to lie to her students and colleagues. Because of this, Kate decides it is time to get sober, practically to the confusion of her husband, Charlie (Aaron Paul), who continues to get drunk with his friends. Getting sober is of course not easy and Kate will find challenges involved in this process, but it will be a true challenge to realize the right direction of her life needs to be headed in.
This movie was quite good, with the right balance of how to handle its material, and it is made better by the strong performances. What I liked about this movie is the way it handles an addiction story and strips it bare of pronounced melodrama. There are of course elements of drama that you tend to find in stories about addiction, but it handles it in a way that feels grittier and more grounded in relatable characters. As opposed to a film like Flight, which I did not care for due to its much more generic handle on the addiction story, supposedly elevated by the great actors and director involved (that said, I do think Washington was quite good in that film). Smashed feels more like a film that is getting across its ideas without feeling misguided, unimpactful, and too loose with its tone.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, is very good in the lead role, showing me a very human side of her that I was happy to watch, proving that she is not just a pretty face (as much as I do love Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and her in it). She is so bare and vulnerable that you can’t help but feel sorry for her and hope she finds a way to help herself. Aaron Paul is quite good too, playing his character somewhat unaware of what is going on and what needs to change. He may go somewhat underrated, given that this is Kate’s film, but Paul brings a very good balance to the film. There is also some fine supporting work from Octavia Spencer as Kate’s sponsor and Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally as her colleagues at the school she teaches at as well.
This is definitely a smaller film that I would like to see get more praise. It’s well acted, has a solid handle on a familiar story, and accomplishes what it needs to without betraying what the film is aspiring to be. It deals with dark subject matter to an extent, but the film has the right kind of energy that has you admiring the low key filmmaking and absorbed into the material, as opposed to feeling like you are too depressed to enjoy the film and recognize what makes the film so effective. Certainly a film worth the time to check out.
Smashed arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p AVC-encoded transfer that does proper justice to the film. Given the low budget nature of this production and its subject matter, Smashed is obviously not the flashiest of film, but given that this was a film distributed by Sony, I am not surprised that the video quality is pretty solid, doing a good job to reflect the grounded reality that the film takes place within. Textures are fully realized, the drab color scheme is noticeable, and the darker scenes play as well as they should. An above average transfer for sure.
Similarly, the lossless DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is solid in the way it presents the sounds of this film. There are moments of score, but Smashed is very much about getting the viewer into the world that these characters live in, which is made up of various atmospheric elements and the sounds of characters under the influence or talking with one another to try and figure out what they should do. Basically the dialogue is key here, as are ambient noises, and the sounds of Kate shuffling around in her darker stages. It may be more minimal than heavier, bombastic soundtracks, but that doesn’t take away from this track’s quality.
Smashed contains a decent number of extras, including an engaging commentary track. It has more than I would have expected on this disc, which is what had me quite satisfied.
Commentary with Director James Ponsoldt and Actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead – This is the highlight of the special features section, as these two provide a fun and high energy commentary track that goes into details about the production, its origins, and some good anecdotes.
Making Smashed – A brief featurette that covers the making of and origin of Smashed.
Toronto Film Festival Red Carpet and Q&A – A nice set of additional information about the film, with the cast and crew participating at a Q&A, following a screening
Deleted Scenes – About 10 minutes of additional footage
Smashed is a film that I hope more people check out. It is a little movie that worked for me, given the strength of the actors involved, the story being told, and the overall vibe of the film. It helps that this Blu-ray is pretty solid all around, with a low-key film getting a lot of justice handed to it in terms of having a feature properly fitted with solid video and audio transfers. The additional features only help things further, as there is a good amount of insight regarding the film to be learned. If you find Smashed, give it a chance, as I think it gets this kind of story and portrays it quite well.