So college. In addition to the tried and true (or only sort of true, but we like to believe it) crap about educating you and building you a better future and preparing you for adulthood, is also sort of a hedonistic Disneyland, where you are given all of the freedoms of being an adult, but only like a tenth of the actual responsibilities. Which is why pretty much everyone walks away from the experience with their own tome of drunken debauchery stories.
My husband had a roommate his freshman year whose entire purpose in life was to pledge whatever douchebag frat his father had pledged (Delta Delta Gamma Assclown, or whatever the hell it was). This was his entire reason for attending a university. So as pledge-time came around, he threw himself into it, heart and soul. Drunken debauchery every night. One of these nights culminated in him stumbling into the dorm room, trashed and completely unresponsive, sitting down, unzipping his pants, and hosing down the entire room in piss. But hey, it was college.
One semester, my husband managed to drink his entire financial aid check before the semester even started. And somehow managed to scrape together the money to stay enrolled that term. Yay college!
You may be wondering, at this point, why none of these drunk stories are mine. My college drunk stories typically began with me imbibing some disgusting, lame-ass girlie drinks (typically flavored with ungodly things like pineapple rum), and later vomming them up. They weren’t very exciting or charming stories, even as they were happening.
The point of all of this is that sooner or later, we move into adulthood, and the debauched behaviors of our youth have to be left behind. There comes a point pissing all over your room or drinking all of your money away ceases to be a charming tale of the shit you got into back in the day, and starts to become evidence that you aren’t managing the stakes of adulthood as well as everyone was hoping.
This is one of the central themes of Smashed. Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul) are a couple still heavily in the grip of the party lifestyle that they have known since high school ended. Going to bars every night, getting shit-faced and then waking up and gutting it through a massive hangover in order to face the day is the order of business. It’s always been the status quo, and they have never really had any reason to question it or consider that it might not be the lifestyle for them any longer. But a few incidents have led Kate to consider the notion that maybe this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, and that it might be time to make some changes. So, with the support of a co-worker, she starts down the path to sobriety.
While the plot of Smashed hits the familiar beats of the alcoholism movie, it does so while presenting a lot of issues that typically aren’t covered in similar films. Sure, we see the pledge to get better, the initial struggle, the successful period, and then the totally expected relapse. That’s all kind of a given. We also see what happens when the sober character finds herself out of place because she is the only person in her life making the change. Nobody likes to be the only sober person at the drunk party (literally and figuratively). We get to see how Kate explores her new-found health while nobody in her immediate circle is very supportive of the choices that she has made. We experience the conflicts that arise between herself and Charlie, still heavily in the throws of the partying lifestyle. The two characters, once completely in step with one another, are now in completely different places in life. Issues that had previously been swept under the rug, come to light and have to be dealt with, and brand new ones arise. Smashed explores the bumps on the road to sobriety that we don’t often see in film. It focuses on what happens when you are ready to change your life, but your life isn’t necessarily ready to change with you. That it isn’t always as simple as making the changes; you sometimes have to weather the swells that results from making them in the first place.
Winstead is amazing. This is really an incredible performance, and I hope she has many more like it. Kate is a very well-rounded character. Winstead avoids the easy route of giving the character the Jekyll and Hyde effect when showing the drunk and sober personas of Kate’s personality. All personality traits are well-integrated into a very dynamic character. That, coupled with the very challenging and emotional moments, make for an captivating performance.
And Aaron Paul as Charlie is perfect as her counterpoint. In the beginning, when they are both heavy drinkers, they are a young, fun-loving couple. But then as Kate sets down the path of a sober lifestyle, it begins to affect the life they have known together. Paul does a great job of conveying his frustration with his new circumstances without coming off as a one-sided character. A lot of the success of this film and its story comes from how it is written and acted to make nobody the bad guy. It’s easy to see how the friction these characters are dealing with would naturally come about – nobody is the villain here.
Smashed hit DVD and Blu-ray yesterday, and I highly recommend you check it out. The familiar plot and a couple of weak moments in the script were overshadowed by the amazing work of the cast and an interesting look at the unexpected impact that making lifestyle choices can have. It is a fascinating study of aspects of alcoholism and sobriety that are often overlooked.