When we first meet Winstead she's enjoying a night out with her husband, Paul, an L.A music critic. The next morning she vomits in front of her young pupils, claiming to be pregnant to cover it up. That night, while intoxicated, she smokes crack and spends the night with a bunch of homeless men. Waking up in some wasteground the following morning, she decides to quit drinking. The vice-principal at her school (Offerman) invites her to his Alcoholics Anonymous meeting where she gets the help she requires. Her new found sobriety is at odds with her husband's partying lifestyle however and the relationship proves increasingly strained.
For all it's indie sensibilities and Cassavettes handheld drama, 'Smashed' is little more than a hip version of those 'After-School Specials' which aired on American TV through the seventies. The version of alcoholism on show here is wildly unrealistic and over-dramatic. Before the opening title card has even hit, Winstead has gone from having a pint of beer to smoking crack with street bums. I haven't seen such a rapid descent since Sue Ellen found solace in the bottle on 'Dallas'. Crazy as it sounds, that show's portrayal of alcoholism was more grounded in reality than the one presented here.
No pun intended but the film seems to be sponsored by AA. Winstead only has to attend one meeting and she's immediately off the sauce. As portrayed here, AA is a wonderful place where everyone accepts you despite your faults. The reality of course couldn't be further from the truth. AA is one of the most despicable institutions we have today. If you're unwilling to accept the Christian God into your life, they're not going to lift a finger to help you. In the U.S it's particularly scandalous that the organisation is sponsored by the state; this in a nation that claims to have a separation of church and state. Never once is religion mentioned here, instead we get a white-washed dishonest portrayal of an organisation more interested in recruiting church members than providing help to those who need it.
In a year full of impressive performances by young actresses, Winstead gives yet another. Despite the weak material, she's an electric presence in a film that doesn't deserve such a good performance. Like a drunk who can't decide whether to party or sleep, the film finds itself torn between serious drama and light comedy. For the most part it's played straight but whenever Offerman and Mullaly appear it bizarrely veers into sitcom territory. Cinema has given us many riveting portrayals of alcoholism, this isn't one of them.