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Want to win an Oscar? Then ugly up, or play someone with an illness.

It would be unfair though to pigeonhole this as just another ‘issue pic’ in which a Hollywood pretty – here Mary Elizabeth Winstead – goes anti-glam for their art.

Winstead plays 20-something primary school teacher Kate who is happily married but also, as she comes to learn and accept, an alcoholic.

After one night sees her partying go from embarrassing to scary (smoking crack under a freeway bridge, for one), she decides to get sober.

But it’s never going to be easy, with life changes, and friends and family affecting her route to sobriety.

 Winstead gives a powerful performance, lacing Kate’s early escapades with the sort of righteous indignation that makes her charming, offensive and a liability all at the same time.

Director and co-writer James Ponsoldt draws from personal and familial experiences with addiction, and it is this detail that makes Smashed honest and true to life, without resorting to grubby worst-case scenario shock-tactics, or overly trite new-found-life happy endings.

Using a hand held approach, he injects urgency into Kate and husband Charlie’s chaotic lives, and peace and calm, too, as Kate attempts to break out on to the road of the 12 steps. Winstead is commanding as a woman who is aware of her illness and unable at first to combat it, but who learns to understand both herself and her new path.

It is also very touching, and refreshingly free of the dour faux seriousness with which these sort of issue pics are usually carried out.

An Oscar dark horse? Could be. 

Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul | 15 | 81mins

Good for: An adult coming-of-age story told with pathos, humour and love. Opens Dec 14.


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