Smashed: Underrated 2012 Depiction of Youthful Excess

Smashed the 2012 film

Smashed is a underrated modern film from 2012. Directed by James Ponsoldt, it starred Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul (at the peak of his Breaking Bad fame).

It’s a simple story, but one of young love and marriage being gradually disrupted by the couple’s drinking problems.

Smashed and the Consequences of Youthful Hedonism

The plot follows the life of young mid-20s Kate Hannah (Winstead) who works as an elementary school teacher. She’s married to, and lives with, her husband Charlie (Paul).

One morning, Kate arrives to work hungover and hurls up into a bin whilst her class watches on bemused. They ask if she’s pregnant and she pretends to be.

She then has to continue that lie with the school principal Mrs. Barnes (Megan Mullally), all whilst her co-worker Dave (Nick Offerman) reveals to Kate that he knows it’s her drinking.

Despite this, Kate continues to drink, party, and enjoy her youth. All whilst Charlie does the same, with the two clearly overdoing it and indulging in drunken antics. Eventually, both acknowledge they’ve got a problem.

Not least after Charlie passes out in the street one night. Whilst Kate tries to buy wine from a store and ends up urinating all over the floor.

Dave (a recovering alcoholic) invites her to AA meets and Kate begins her process of getting her life in order, but Charlie is intent on drinking and enjoying the good life.

It places a strain on their marriage. Kate, meanwhile, is let go from her job when she admits to her principal she’s not pregnant, instead prone to heavy drinking.

Smashed rounds itself up with Kate and Charlie contemplating their future, with the latter hinting he’s eager to stop his drinking to make sure their marriage works.

And that’s the plot! It’s simple but effective—a subtle account of her something like this can creep into a person’s life and gradually take over everything.

It’s certainly something people in their 20s don’t think about.

Alcohol is associated with a great time of it. But it’s not long before that can shift towards something else entirely, as depicted in the likes of Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur (1962) and various other forms of media.

What makes the film is definitely Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She’s brilliant in the role—wasn’t drunk, at all, instead simply nailing the performance with a sense of increasingly manic sense of disorder.

What we like about Smashed is its ability to strip out the nonsense and depict a couple’s loss of control over the situation.

There’s no glorification of anything here, it’s all realistically done.

Drinkers of the world often like to pretend they don’t have an issue, but this film is a reminder the worst is only ever a step away from becoming an uncomfortable reality.

The Production of Smashed

Off its $500,000 budget, the film was not a success. It made $499,725. Despite that, the film met with positive reviews after screening at the Sundance Film Festival and Winstead received awards nods at the Independent Spirit Awards.

The script was written by director James Ponsoldt and Susan Burke, basing it off the latter’s experiences of her mid-20s alcoholism.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead doesn’t get the credit she deserves and this should have been a more serious breakout role for her. She’s terrific in Smashed, really showing a deep understanding of the material she’s handling and how it affects people

She was only 28 at the time, but it’s impressive work.

While she may not be a household name, she’s since starred in a lot of things. In 2017 she was in Fargo series three. She met Ewan McGregor on set there and the pair married in April 2022.

When the film was shot in 2012, Aaron Paul was at the height of his Breaking Bad fame (as Jesse Pinkman). His involvement in this project no doubt brought in many more viewers, but it was also a chance for him to try and avoid being typecast.

Ten years on, he’s not really achieved that. But then it’s going to be difficult for anyone in involved in Breaking Bad to top that.

However, he did a good job in this role as the doting young husband figure who just likes a laugh. Yet he doesn’t realise the toll it’s taking on him (and his wife). But the lead actors had different approaches to their prep for their respective roles:

  • Winstead spoke with Burke about her experiences and then studied literature from acting coach Ivana Chubbuck.
  • Paul got wasted and recorded himself, studying his actions after.

The latter approach is what Nic Cage did in 1996’s Leaving Las Vegas, although he also spoke to long-term alcoholics for further tips.

The film was shot in just 19 days in October 2011.

Since its release, we feel Smashed has become long-forgotten. Which is a bit unfair as this is  a well shot film with a terrific central performance from Winstead that deserves revaluation.


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