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Originally published Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 3:01 PM

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Acting in 'Smashed' masterfully portrays alcohol addiction

A movie review of "Smashed," a portrait of a woman's alcohol addiction, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul and Octavia Spencer.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3.5 stars

'Smashed,' with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Mary Kay Place, Octavia Spencer. Directed by James Ponsoldt, from a screenplay by Ponsoldt and Susan Burke. 85 minutes. Rated R for alcohol abuse, language, some sexual content and brief drug use. Sundance Cinemas.

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Just a week after Denzel Washington's performance in "Flight" comes another masterful screen portrait of addiction. In "Smashed," Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Kate, a young teacher (late 20s, perhaps?) who loves to drink; it makes her feel prettier, more adorable, "like the most charming girl in the world," she explains when sober.

She and her husband, Charlie (Aaron Paul), pass out drunk most nights, waking up in a wet bed only to drink beer in the shower. It's not a pretty picture — and gets even uglier when a hung-over Kate unexpectedly vomits in front of her grade-school classroom, setting off a string of cover-up lies.

Winstead (Ramona Flowers in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World") shows us how Kate lights up like a birthday-cake candle around Charlie; he's her best friend and partner in crime, and life together feels like a giddy if sodden adventure. But as Kate takes tentative steps toward sobriety ("I don't know if I'm an alcoholic. I just drink. I drink a lot," she tells an AA meeting), she finds she's walking alone, as Charlie sees no reason to curtail his own good times.

Writer-director James Ponsoldt (the screenplay was written with Susan Burke) gives it all a very real-people feel: The camera work is handheld and jittery, reflecting Kate's often wobbly state of mind, and the character's decidedly nonglam wardrobe, minimal makeup and charm-free home feel honest and right.

The supporting cast, particularly Megan Mullally as Kate's kind boss, Octavia Spencer as an AA buddy, and Paul — whose Charlie speaks in such freewheeling rhythms that we can't always tell whether or not he's drunk — is strong, but it's Winstead's fearless, open face that carries this movie. Staggering along in Kate's unsteady shoes, she lets us come to know a lost soul struggling to find an anchor — and realizing, sadly, that it isn't where she thought it was.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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