The real trouble with alcoholism is that it takes control of your life in such a way that in time, it's easier to go with the flow than it is to struggle against the rapids. And, as perceptively observed in Smashed, those that finally open their eyes to the reality of the situation are then resigned to untangle all of the accumulated cobwebs that the disease has left in its wake.
To make matters worse, Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a schoolteacher living a hazy existence with fellow alcoholic husband Charlie (Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul) in a modest and appropriately under-lit home. When she shows up to work one day battling a hangover with swigs from a flask, the recipe leads to vomiting in a trashcan in front of her class and reluctantly agreeing with a young student's incorrect diagnosis that she is pregnant.
After finally bottoming out, she is taken under the wing of recovering addict vice-principal Dave (Nick Offerman), who invites her to an AA meeting, where she meets her new sponsor, Jenny (Octavia Spencer). Beginning to put her life back together again, the weight of being married to a man who, while providing a supportive fašade, has no intention of getting clean himself proves to be a perpetual struggle.
Winstead is an absolute revelation here, displaying the full potential of what has only thus far been glimpsed in less substantial roles in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and last year's starring turn in the remake of The Thing. She projects a vulnerability and wounded pride beneath her tough veneer that are captivating and uncomfortably honest.
The supporting cast has been expertly assembled, including a juicy role for Parks & Recreation's Offerman, as a decent man with deeper, unreciprocated feelings for Kate and an absolutely terrible way with words. Paul continues his rise to prominence in a tricky role, while Spencer does wonders with a small morsel of screen time. Megan Mulally, Offerman's real-life wife, also gets ample opportunity to shine in a few key scenes as the school's principal.
The film was co-written and directed by James Ponsoldt, who has experience telling stories about alcoholics after 2006's Off The Black, and he possesses a knack for seasoning the serious business of getting sober with appreciated dashes of humour and heart.
With another film starring Winstead already in the works, it's safe to say that this has all the makings of a beautiful partnership. (Sony)