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'Smashed' review: a couple's drinking problem

Aaron Paul (as Charlie Hannah) and Mary Elizabeth

Aaron Paul (as Charlie Hannah) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Kate Hannah) co-star in "Smashed." Credit: AP

You have your pick of two alcohol-abuse dramas opening locally today: One is "Flight," starring Denzel Washington, and the other is "Smashed," featuring relative newcomer Mary Elizabeth Winstead. The big-name Hollywood project turns out to be the deeper film, though "Smashed" has its rewards.

The main one is Winstead, who pumped some life into "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" as Mary Todd and here plays Kate Hannah, a youngish schoolteacher. She's a charming wisp of a thing who nevertheless drinks like a sailor with hollow legs. She tends to wet the bed after a bender, which doesn't bother her party-hearty husband, Charlie (a very good Aaron Paul), but Kate finally hears alarm bells the morning she wakes up in a vacant lot somewhere in Los Angeles. A sober co-worker, Dave, brings Kate to her first meeting. "Things have gone from embarrassing to scary," she says.

"Smashed," written by Susan Burke and director James Ponsoldt, wisely avoids the usual scenes: There's no apocalyptic "bottoming out," no cue-the-orchestra triumph over the drink. The movie is more interested in how a hip 20-something handles the first major obstacle of her carefree life. As Charlie keeps drinking with his amiable, aimless buddies, Kate begins to see them through newly serious eyes.

"Flight" is a less intimate film, but it's more compelling because its hero, a troubled airline pilot, has so much at stake. Kate is so youthfully resilient -- and her recovery so quick and easy -- that it's hard to worry much about her. Kate's unflappable sponsor, Jenny (Octavia Spencer in a small role), and the weird but well-meaning Dave have both done much harder living. They might have made for more interesting stories.

PLOT A young schoolteacher's decision to sober up puts a strain on her marriage.

RATING R (language, sexuality, adult themes)

CAST Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Octavia Spencer


BOTTOM LINE Youngish characters freshen up an old story, but their carefree lives don't make for the most compelling drama. Winstead, a relative newcomer, handily carries this slender film.

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