IoS film review 2: Smashed
Alcoholism shouldn't be this much fun – even if we're left wanting more
Sunday 16 December 2012
Not many films could be improved by being 15 minutes longer, but Smashed is one of them. It stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a 20-something Los Angeles primary-school teacher with a serious drinking problem. How serious? Well, she vomits on the floor in front of a class of five-year-olds, and that's by no means the most embarrassing of her boozy faux pas. Soon, even she realises that enough is enough. The school's deputy head, Nick Offerman, invites her along to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, but her hedonistic husband, Aaron Paul, fears that their marriage will grind to a halt without some scotch and tequila to grease the wheels.
James Ponsoldt's lively indie drama pulls off the trick of showing just how destructive Winstead's binges can be, while acknowledging how fun they can be, too. The bright-eyed, loose-limbed Winstead is having such a good time that we can understand why she keeps getting stupidly drunk. And, in general, she faces both her alcoholism and her sobriety with a minimum of Oscar-baiting self-pity. There's one big, shouty argument, but otherwise Smashed refuses to wallow in the misery of hitting rock bottom.
As welcome as its droll frankness may be, though, the film goes too far in its swerve away from melodrama. We see Winstead drinking, then we see her not drinking, but we're only just getting to the pressures brought on by this transition when Smashed suddenly jumps to its finale. Ponsoldt has chickened out of writing the most testing and traumatic part of his heroine's story – hence my desire for that extra 15 minutes. Rarely have I been more frustrated by a "One Year Later" cut.
Smashed might have swapped running times with Love Crime, a French thriller that would have been far better shorter. It features Ludivine Sagnier as an eager young executive and Kristin Scott Thomas as her smooth, conniving boss. Sagnier is so spellbound by her mentor that she doesn't mind when Scott Thomas nabs all the credit for her deal-clinching ideas. But when the older woman humiliates the younger one at a party, Sagnier plots her revenge.
So ... Sagnier and Scott Thomas; sex and murder; swanky Parisian boardrooms and bedrooms. Sounds enticing, doesn't it? But, sadly, the chic 1980s erotic thriller currently playing in your head is a lot more enjoyable than the late Alain Corneau's version. Released in France two years ago, Love Crime should have been seductively stylish, and yet it looks like a training video shot by contestants on The Apprentice. Agatha Christie might have knocked out the plot on an off-day, and its high-finance milieu is depicted so fuzzily that it recalls the "perfect murder" films Woody Allen made in London. Yes, it's that bad.
It could be worse, though. Codename: Geronimo is an action movie about the Navy Seals' raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. The curious thing is that it was produced by one of the producers of The Hurt Locker, and yet that film's director and writer, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, have also made their own thriller on the same subject, Zero Dark Thirty. Still, if audiences are in danger of confusing the two projects before they've seen them, I very much doubt that they'll be confused afterwards. Codename: Geronimo is a snoozy TV movie, with a drastic shortage of brains and budget. The CIA is represented by three people in a nondescript office, and one of them is Finch from American Pie.
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