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'Smashed' review: Doesn't (and shouldn't) go down smooth

*** (out of four)

Before heading into the first grade class she teaches, Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) takes a sip from the flask in her car. Then another. Eh, the kids’ll never notice.

Actually, they do, because she vomits in the middle of a lesson, which turns into a lie that she’s pregnant, which eventually turns into her principal (Megan Mullally) throwing a surprise baby shower. Even when a bottle’s not in her hands, Kate ain’t holding any control.

An effectively direct story about different ways to feel powerless, “Smashed” features a best-yet performance from Winstead (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”). She’s scarily believable in her drunken stupor and in her efforts to clean up, with help from her vice principal (Illinois native and Mullally’s husband, Nick Offerman of “Parks and Recreation”) and sponsor (Octavia Spencer of “The Help”). The movie recognizes that it is possible to have fun when drunk, but not this kind of drunk, when the booze takes over and Kate continually wakes up outdoors, alone and disoriented. The change in her marriage to her heavy-drinking husband (Aaron Paul of “Breaking Bad”) as she tries to get sober is another startling wake-up call.

Director/co-writer James Ponsoldt over explains the “why” of Kate’s drinking, and he doesn’t unearth any discoveries that feel especially new or profound about alcoholism or co-dependency. He just articulates the ugly truth and the difficult, courageous road to recovery. You don’t have to be an alcoholic to relate to a story/regret that ends with, “I was drunk.”

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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