Words: Rob DeStefano

The world has made its last and most triumphant revolution, and just before we must listen to Woody Harrelson sermonize the end of days, the 2012 Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF) will parade among the foliage once more. Procuring some of last year’s best features – Shame, The Descendants, Melancholia, (ugh) The Artist – the festival has further increased its selections in major releases and its involvement in the indie circuit. Check out the full schedule here.

While the riff raff from NYC was shattering storefronts along Montauk Highway in search of stray tickets to Friday’s premieres, IF kicked off its attendance with a pass to the Sundance winning Smashed.

Director: James Ponsoldt

Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Nick Offerman, Octavia Spencer, Megan Mullally

Consensus: A likeable cast and strong lead performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead help to traverse muddled scripting.

Smashed – not to be confused with the Debra Messing TV series in which my little brother plays her house cat – is about Kate’s (Mary Elizabeth Winstead or Mew) desire and actual need for sobriety. The film, to an ingenious level, doesn’t focus on the logistics of becoming sober but rather on the implications: how does this weigh on Kate’s marriage with Charlie (Aaron Paul) who parties and drinks more than Debra Messing’s house cat?

While this premise feels fresh, the unbalance between comedy and drama leads to subversion. There are many scenes that play out as pure comedy: the earliest being Kate’s impromptu crack session with a hobo woman. Kate is a first grade teacher, albeit one who vomits in class when hung-over, but her antics that lead to her dramatic sobriety, which also include urinating not on Zac Efron but in a convenience store aisle, are severely ridiculous. In contrast, her dramatic moments, namely the final act, which is excellent, do not juxtapose well with the lighter (or intended to be lighter) moments. I couldn’t help but recall The Descendants, a movie which masterfully blended the comic and the tragic, and how this effect was not achieved here.

Smashed director James Ponsoldt stated in the Q&A that he and his co-writer, who has an extensive history with alcohol abuse, wanted these characters, despite their specificities, to feel relatable. Aaron Paul’s character is the surface layer of Jesse Pinkman. This isn’t his fault since he’s written with little more than one dimension. The same holds true of the supporting roles Octavia Spencer and Megan Mullally, who provide emotional support and comic relief, respectively. Nick Offerman of Parks and Recreation is given more due as Mew’s co-worker and AA initiator, but he too falls victim to the humor versus crisis. Again, these two tones each get their separate screen time, but never seem to jive, making for an uneven product.

It’s somewhat upsetting when the final act, filled with visceral feelings, erupts in a bravura performance by Mew. Ponsoldt handles his scenes and the passage of time stunningly well in its finale; it’s unfortunate that the rest of the story felt potholed.

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