Smashed (Film Review)

Smashed (Film Review)

Ah, Netflix. I love you because of your random suggestions. Since I watched Drinking Buddies, I might also like…

Smashed.

A quick film about a young married couple (Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul), who have issues with drinking. Like, they enjoy it too much. Both of them are alcoholics, and the film centers around Winstead wanting to get clean, Paul’s refusal, and the way in which alcohol, or the lack of it, drives them apart.

smashed_headerAt the beginning, Smashed seems like it will be a harrowing journey into the lives of alcoholics, in the way that so many substance abuse movies are. We will watch them have fun, then things will turn bad, then they will go through the torturous withdrawal on their way to redemption. I will give this movie credit, in that it isn’t as cookie-cutter perfect as it could have been.

The movie opens with Winstead waking up hungover, getting ready for work, drinking in her car, then throwing up in front of her grade 1 students. Seems like our abuse film is right on track. This leads to a side story, where Winstead says she is pregnant, causing her to be ill. While the story line initially seems kind of pointless, it does lead to a redeeming part later on, so there is definite purpose. Later on, she smokes crack with a stranger. A quick escalation, and we see that she could easily become a complete train wreck.

The best part of the movie is Winstead’s performance. She is confused, and angry, with the choices she has made, and she comes across as genuine throughout the film. She is able to create the performance of someone who is broken, and ready for a change. She drank because it made her feel good. And then it made her feel bad. So she stopped.

And this is the problem with the film. It all seemed too easy for Kate. She went to a couple of meetings, with the guidance of a fellow teacher (played awesomely by Nick Offerman- he has the most memorable, and most awkward, scene in the movie when he is in the car with Kate and admits he has a crush on her), found a great sponsor, and got clean. Sure, there is the inevitable relapse, but Smashed keeps us away from the physical pain of detox. There is no real indication that Kate as any issues with being around others that drink, which I would imagine, is one of the most difficult things for a recovering alcoholic to do. She carries on with her life, does better at her teaching job, before the drift with her husband occurs.

It is nice to see the opposite side of the coin, however, in that alcohol was the thing that kept this couple together. We are more used to seeing how the presence of booze will drive a couple apart. For the most part, it becomes the absence of alcohol that creates their marital issues, as it was something that they could bond over for so many years. For that, Smashed offers a slightly different perspective on the issue.

For the most part of the movie, Aaron Paul is underused. He is a good actor, but the majority of his performance is basically a spinoff of the early Jesse Pinkman on the first couple of seasons of Breaking Bad. He could have been more. He gets to show his acting chops as the movie progresses, but for the most part, I feel he could have done more.

In all, Smashed is just ok. It could have been dark, and gritty, but it only gave us glimpses into that side of alcoholism. This film is carried by the actors that are in it, and for them, it is worth viewing. As a movie that focuses on the pain and desperation of addiction, it does fall a little flat.

Drinking Buddies (Film Review)

Drinking Buddies (Film Review)

There is nothing about the premise of this film that I do not like. Friends who own a brewery, their complicated love lives, a “they belong together but are they clever enough to figure it out” relationship, beautiful women, strong acting performances.

drinking-buddies2
Johnson definitely as scruffy in this photo as he is in the film. He gets to sport an awesome beard.

Drinking Buddies, which is now on Netflix Canada, is a very strong movie, and it is led by the amazing performance by Olivia Wilde. In this film, she is best defined as being a beautiful disaster. She definitely isn’t glammed up at all in the movie, spending most of it with bags under her eyes, hungover, and in some fairly ratty tank tops. But there is still something about her that is incredibly desirable, and that speaks to the level of her performance. She is a complete mess, going through a breakup with her boyfriend, who could possibly the most boring human ever, and has no chemistry with her. But she is a mess that you want to know, because she is a cool girl, and one who is willing to down beer after beer with her friends. You can’t help but love her.

The movie also has a great supporting cast, including the always great Ron Livingston (seriously, him in Office Space and Band of Brothers is amazing) as Wilde’s dull and ill-fitting boyfriend, Jake M. Johnson (from New Girl) playing Wilde’s co-worker and best friend, and the always fantastic and sedate Anna Kendrick (if you are not yet a fan and only know her from Twilight, you are missing out. Check her out in Pitch Perfect and Up in the Air). The foursome makes this movie what it is, which is a quiet story about friends and falling in love.

This is Olivia Wilde's best performance.
This is Olivia Wilde’s best performance. Even roughed up, she is still beautiful.

Throughout the film, there is an understated jealousy between all of the characters, based on the nature of their relationships, and this provides the depth, and the warmth, of the film. There is nothing over-the-top to be seen here. There is no scene where the characters are running through an airport trying to tell someone that they love them before they leave their lives forever. No hammy romantic gestures that destroys the relationships that we learn to respect over the course of the hour and a half run time.

The movie is calm, and understated. Not a collection of drunken adventures. It is based in realism, and this is why I liked this movie so much. It is something that can happen, that has happened, and will definitely happen again. So many of us have been in situations like this before, where we don’t necessarily realize that the thing that is most perfect for us is sitting right before us. Sometimes it is painful to watch the realism, but this is the way things are in real life. It isn’t always fireworks and crazy hookups and insane parties. Sometimes it’s quiet conversations about the possibility of marriage, getting too drunk and trying to make a bonfire, or running into the ocean after far too many. Sometimes it is all about sitting quietly next to your friend over lunch.

This simplicity is what makes Drinking Buddies a movie worth watching. If you are in it for a rip-roaring drinking comedy, keep searching. This is not that film. This one is definitely something more than that, something that feels a little bit more important.

Well worth a watch.