The best films about recovery from addiction are not about reaching rock bottom and making that choice to stop.
Rather, like Smashed, they're about the very real and difficult task of going on, in an emotionally unshielded and intensely vulnerable way. Addiction, after all, isn't about loving the substance and what it does for you; it's about the way it muffles, numbs and otherwise blocks actual feelings from intruding on the user's world.
That's what James Ponsoldt understands and what makes Smashed so affecting. Ostensibly the story about a couple named Charlie and Kate (Aaron Paul and Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who enjoy drinking a little too much, it's really the examination of what happens to them when Kate does hit a bottom of sorts and decides to stop.
The warning signs are there. An elementary-school teacher who lives in L.A.'s Silver Lake neighborhood, Kate spends her evenings at the local bar with her trust-fund-baby husband Charlie, partying until late -- even though she sometimes drinks so much that she winds up wetting the bed.
One day (probably, most days), she is so hung-over that, sitting in her car in the school parking lot, she takes a couple of shots from a personal flask just to start the morning. Then she goes to face her kids -- and promptly vomits into the wastebasket in the middle of class.
When one of the kids wonders aloud whether she is, in fact, pregnant, she lies and says that, yes, this is why she's sick. Before she knows it, her meddling school principal (Megan Mullally) has heard the news and puts together a baby shower for her.
But her act hasn't fooled the school's assistant principal, Mr. Davies (Nick Offerman), who recognizes a fellow alcoholic when he sees one. He admits that he spotted her taking nips from the flask, admits that he's a Friend of Bill, and offers to take her to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
She demurs, going home to tell Charlie that, perhaps, they should cut back: "We'll become those people who just have a little wine with dinner," he jokes.
This review continues on my website.