James Ponsoldt’s first feature was the little-seen 2006 drama Off the Black starring Nick Nolte as an alcoholic who asks a young friend – played by Trevor Morgan – to pose as his son at his high school reunion.
For his second movie, Ponsoldt takes alcoholism in a different direction with Smashed starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Live Free or Die Hard) and “Breaking Bad”‘s Aaron Paul in the lead roles. Playing a married couple, the two share a love of music, laughter and especially drinking, according to the movie’s official synopsis.
Ponsoldt wrote the screenplay with Susan Burke, who he says is “the owner of some of the most simultaneously upsetting and hilarious stories I’ve ever heard about dumb things she did while she was drunk.” Based on the new clips just released by Sony Pictures Classics, it’s the upsetting parts that set the stage for Winstead’s Kate, an elementary school teacher, in Smashed. Described as a movie more about fidelity and love than alcoholism, Kate joins AA when it appears she is putting her job in jeopardy. But her husband, Charlie, doesn’t really see the problem and thinks they have a lot of fun when they drink and get crazy, as he explains in this clip.
Eventually, it appears, Kate’s destructive ways catch up to her after a drinking-related incident in her classroom leads to a series of lies. In this clip, Kate is confronted by the school’s vice-principal, Dave Davies, played by “Parks & Recreation”‘s Nick Offerman.
Realizing things could be on the verge of spiraling out of control, Kate enters AA to try to get a handle on her problem.
“I’m not sure if people can really, fundamentally change,” Ponsoldt says, “but I do know that films about people with problems attempting to change their lives – even if they’re unsuccessful or perhaps delusional – are some of my favorite stories. I love watching people try and fail. And try again. And fail worse. There’s something special and heroic and so, so human about seeing someone attempt to conquer her demons and fix her life.”
If this scene is any indication, Winstead appears to deliver a deeply thoughtful, emotional performance as she faces her demons, even if it possibly means losing her husband as they realize their marriage might be based under the guise of fun than love.
While in AA, Kate befriends Jenny, played by Oscar® winner Octavia Spencer, who offers her tough-love support, and Dave tries to help by sharing his own story of recovery.
In the last scene, Kate confesses her actions to the school principal, played by Megan Mullally (who knows a thing or two about alcoholic characters having brilliantly played the hilarious Karen Walker on “Will & Grace”), who doesn’t respond too well.