Allow this critic a small moment of naches: Ever since I saw Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s wild-card turn in 2005’s Sky High, the cherub-cheeked actor has impressed me with chops worthier than her agent. (Steely and tear-rimmed in Final Destination 3, she was a new Jamie Lee Curtis in our midst.) Finally, Winstead has been allowed a meatier role to convince the rest: Her Kate, an alcoholic grade-school teacher, is the tremulous heart of this well-intentioned L.A. addiction drama. Winstead runs with it and is never less than excellent, wobbly on her hipster bike and grandly unhinged during the bad times, hanging on by a thread in the latter half of the movie. Her performance could have easily tipped into sloppiness; the self-control, never glib or ironic, is astounding.
To be sure, the film as a whole feels like a creaky vehicle, belabored with plot strands and stereotypes that only serve to highlight Winstead’s ragged commitment to something real. Oscar winner Octavia Spencer shows up as a saintly AA sponsor preaching the gospel of comfort food—no tummy ache ever arrives for her. Elsewhere, scenes with Kate’s equally soused husband, Charlie (Aaron Paul), telegraph a yawning divide that smacks of screenwriterly contentment. But Smashed may have already served its purpose: Every time we’re supposed to fawn over the latest indie It girl, we run the risk of forgetting the talented players who need only a little nurturing to bloom.
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