Tipsy and in trou­ble

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - REVIEW FILM - Di­rected by James Pon­soldt. Star­ring Aaron Paul, Mary Elizabeth Win­stead, Mary Kay Place, Me­gan Mul­lally Club, IFI, Dublin, 80 min DON­ALD CLARKE

Clock­ing in at a con­ve­nient 80 min­utes, this ex­am­i­na­tion of a young al­co­holic’s route to re­cov­ery doesn’t waste much time on nar­ra­tive di­ver­sions or flesh­ing out of char­ac­ter. In fact, it plays a lit­tle like a cin­e­matic adap­ta­tion of an AA flyer. Be­ware the co-de­pen­dent ro­man­tic part­ner. Do not de­lude your­self with com­fort­ing delu­sions. Set be­side less tidy ex­am­i­na­tions of al­co­holism such as Barfly or The Lost Week­end, Smashed feels de­cid­edly un­der-strength. But it does get some points for the sin­cer­ity of its pur­pose.

Mary Elizabeth Win­stead turns up as Kate, an ele­men­tary school teacher with a roar­ing drink prob­lem. Set­ting out its planned pro­ce­dural rhythms, the film be­gins by putting the poor woman in ghastly sit­u­a­tions: she wees in a con­ve­nience store; she takes crack with a stranger; she vom­its vi­o­lently in front of her stu­dents. Pan­icked by that last catas­tro­phe, Kate finds her­self telling the kids and her su­pe­ri­ors that she is preg­nant.

Through­out it all, Win­stead does an en­er­getic im­per­son­ation of a young ac­tor do­ing an en­er­getic im­per­son­ation of a drunk: one hand wag­gles madly while vo­cal stresses are ran­domised and hair is el­e­gantly dis­or­dered.

What fol­lows is straight from the al­co­hol-de­pen­dency hand­book. Kate signs on for AA and – af­ter a some­what per­func­tory strug­gle – quits the booze, but fails to re­alise that she also needs to rid her­self of old friends.

Smashed does dare to sug­gest that mis­use of al­co­hol can be fun. But it is less nu­anced in its de­pic­tion of the characters cir­cling the pro­tag­o­nist. Though Aaron Paul tries hard as her equally wasted hus­band, he can’t shake the no­tion that the char­ac­ter is com­posed from case stud­ies. Me­gan Mul­lally, as the school prin­ci­pal, stands in for that part of so­ci­ety that will never un­der­stand de­pen­dency.

Ar­riv­ing at an ap­pro­pri­ate time of the year, Smashed has some (ahem) sober­ing lessons for us. Sadly, it hasn’t quite man­aged to turn them into a proper film.

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