Mary Elizabeth Winstead has been around for quite some time now. She’s played John McClane’s daughter Lucy (Live Free or Die Hard) and Ramona Flowers herself (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). She’s also popped up in her fair share of genre work as well (Final Destination 3, Black Christmas, Death Proof, and this past October’s The Thing). So it was only a matter of time before she finally snatched up a starring role allowing her to show what she’s more than capable of. And in co-writer/director James Ponsoldt’s Smashed, they both have a great shot at winning the U.S. Dramatic category at this year’s 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
Kate (Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul) love to party. We all know people who do. My friends and I save this kind of thing for the weekend but these two spend their married nights hanging out at bars, listening to bands for Charlie’s job and getting drunk. Kate even takes a few sips in her car before heading inside the elementary school where she teaches first grade. One morning Kate throws up in front of her students and they all ask her if she’s pregnant. To save face she goes along with it. Now Principal Barnes (Megan Mullally) is on her side as she was never able to have children and thinks this is going to be wonderful for Kate. Vice Principal Dave Davies (Nick Offerman) however, knows the truth to her situation as he saw her taking some swigs in the parking lot but promises not to say anything.
That night things go from bad to worse as Kate decides maybe she needs to cut back a little, leaving Charlie at the bar. In the parking lot she meets a stranger who seems desperate and just needs a ride home. Kate agrees to help her out but during the ride, said stranger talks her into taking a hit off the old crack pipe. Kate wakes up alone in a strange place and when she’s asked if everything’s okay by Dave, she finally fesses up that things are not okay. Not even close. He also comes clean with her that he’s been sober for nine years and knows what she’s going through. He talks her into joining him at Alcoholics Anonymous where Dave plays her “wingman” and she meets her sponsor Jenny (Octavia Spencer). Now Kate begins the road to recovery where she gets into even more than she bargained for as it puts everything from her job to marriage on the line.
Emotional, hilarious, frightening, and heartbreaking; this is the type of film you expect to see on a daily basis up at the festival – at least if you have the time. When you don’t get to see as many as the rest of the press it really makes a film like Smashed just stand out even more. Winstead gives her all in a true tour de force as Kate goes through the motions of the screenplay. Speaking of, after the screening there was a fantastic Q&A with Ponsoldt, Winstead, and co-writer Susan Burke. They explained they wanted to show things in a more natural way and that even though they based their screenplay on their own experiences, they’re still sure they’re going to have their own naysayers. But everything works, from the performances to the direction. This is one of the best films of the 2012 festival… And I’m not just saying that because I stood next to Winstead on a bus ride through Park City.