Thirtysomethings Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul) are married, live in a quirky part of Los Angeles and generally have a good time. But much of their fun is fueled by drinking massive amounts of alcohol, because hey, everything goes better with tequila, right? But things have not-so-subtly shifted from good times to bad times; in the opening scene, Kate has wet the bed — again. Then, Kate suffers a booze-related indignity at her elementary-school job, which leads to a shameful cover-up. A colleague (Nick Offerman) uncovers her lies — and her drinking problem — and steers her to AA.
Writer-director James Ponsoldt's dramedy is primarily about Kate's recovery, and the messiness of sorting through life newly sober. There's Charlie, who's still drinking and angry; her estranged mom (Mary Kay Place); and a hard reckoning with the assorted costs of her addiction. Smashed gets a bit "message-y" at times, though its conflicts and resolutions are grounded enough to invite familiarity. (We've all hit our 30s with a "Kate" in the social mix.)
The film is a breakout for Winstead who, up until now, has been in sillier genre fare (The Thing, Live Free or Die Hard, Final Destination 3). Her best scenes aren't the showy ones as a raging, profane drunk, but the quieter ones where Winstead lets Kate's sadness, shame, anger and, in time, resolve play out across her face. It's no disrespect to Paul, but his immature, self-destructive Charlie is mostly another shade of his role as Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad. Still, nobody does slacker goofball jumbled up with puppy-dog sad as winningly as Paul.