Smashed (Blu-ray)

March 19, 2013 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

A few months ago, don’t ask me how or why, I was perusing the IMDB and ended up on the page for a film called Duane Hopwood.  I scrolled down to the bottom of the page and read what looked to be a very familiar description of the plot, namely a phrase “…any movie that deals with the problem of alcoholism is hit or miss…” and that rings true when dealing with any movie that takes on this very sensitive subject.  I’ll come right out and say that I drink.  More than I should, I’m willing to say.  While I don’t even come close to what some of the characters in this movie do, it’s still a very concerning thing.  People with addictions, be it gambling, hoarding, drinking, smoking or drugs use that to cope and compensate with things in their lives.  A movie like Smashed looks at a seemingly normal couple, yet under the microscope we see that the line between just “having a good time” and “alcoholic” is a line that’s not so blurred.

Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a first grade teacher.  She and her husband, Charlie (Aaron Paul) like to go out and have a good time and that “good time” usually, ok, always involves having one too many. She shows up for work hungover, wets the bed and vomits in front of her first graders.  When her class asks her if she’s pregnant, she lunges at the opportunity to cover her tracks (so to speak).  The time comes when Kate realizes she really does have a problem with alcohol, this hits her especially hard when she tries crack and wakes up in downtown Los Angeles in some sort of a factory yard.  Things have to change.  With the help of a co-worker, Vice-Principal Dave Davies (Nick Offerman), himself a recovering alcoholic, the two try to make the best out of a bad situation.  What the movie tries to tackle even mores, however, is the problem of a husband who’s not supportive or there for his wife when he himself has a problem.  Who’s the ultimate winner in this scenario?

Writer/Director James Ponsoldt explains that Smashed is a “love story” and in many ways it is.  It also tackles the very sensitive topic of substance abuse.  Look around, watch TV, go to the mall – how many liquor stores do we pass on a daily basis, how many beer commercials are out there?  As Kate’s character asks in the film, “how does one beer always turn into twenty?”  That’s a good question.  Smashed is up there with some of the other movies of this genre, notably great ones like Leaving Las Vegas, Days of Wine and Roses and The Lost Weekend (and perhaps more recently 28 Days).  I watched this film with a glass of wine by my side and when the ending credits rolled, I’d only taken a few sips.  I think that’s a good thing.  But as difficult as this movie is to watch, it’s a testament to some great acting, writing and directing and should be seen.

Video: How does it look?

Smashed was made on a scant budget of $500,000.  Granted, that’s not exactly pocket change, but when you consider most every Summer blockbuster has a $100 million dollar price tag, this pales by comparison.  Having said that, the 1.78:1 AVC HD image is second to none.  The HD cameras used in filmmaking today just simply look amazing.  In spite of the dark tone of the film, many of the scenes are beautifully shot and the detail is amazing.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a beautiful actress, but we can see the inconsistencies in her skin tone.  Black levels and contrast are right on target and as the film starts to have a more positive tone, we see some more colors warm the atmosphere.  I was very impressed with how good this looked considering how small the film’s budget was.  Amazing.

Audio: How does it sound?

The DTS HD Master Audio is a bit of a different beast and while it doesn’t sound bad by any means, it certainly won’t win (and didn’t) when it comes to the audio department.  By and large this is a very dialogue-driven film, with only the occasional bits and pieces of surround sound coming in.  Vocals seem clear and crisp without any distortion.  I think the LFE took this movie off and that’s fine as they weren’t really needed.  A character driven piece like this is nearly always more driven by dialogue than any sort of sound.  This is about what I expected the movie to sound like and I’m sure that there’ll be no need to complain as it sounds just fine.

Supplements: What are the extras?

We get a nice little assortment of supplements with the feature-length commentary by writer/director James Ponsoldt and actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead giving a very chatty and informative track.  The two obviously got along very well during the scant 19 day shoot and they laugh and add tons of information during the 81 minute session.  It’s a great little track and one I’d recommend.  “Making Smashed” is a ten minute look about the origins of the film, the casting and the subsequent accolades it received.  “Toronto Film Festival Q & A” is just that – the actors arrive on the red carpet and are interviewed by members of the media.  Also included are half a dozen deleted scenes.

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