James Ponsoldt and Mary Elizabeth Winstead on set of SmashedSome films, like Phyllida Lloyd’s The Iron Lady for example, contain a central performance so impressive that the film as a whole is shown up to be rather flimsy by comparison. Although Smashed is by no means a flimsy piece of work, you do get the sense that with a performance as mesmerizing as Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s at the centre of it, everything else is bound to suffer in comparison.

Winstead will probably be best known to most for her performances in films such as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Die Hard 4.0, The Thing and Final Destination 3. She’s always given the impression that she’s an actress with a great deal of talent, even if she’s rarely been given much to sink her teeth into here. Kudos then to Smashed director James Ponsoldt who saw enough raw ability in Winstead to hand her the challenging lead role of Kate Hannah.

Kate is a school teacher responsible on a daily basis for a classroom full of young children. She’s also an alcoholic. She and her husband Charlie (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul) have a relationship seemingly built on the foundation of a mutual love of alcohol, and slowly Kate has become to realise how destructive her alcohol dependence has become. There are two key events that trigger a change in Kate. After one late night binge Kate arrives at school the next morning and vomits in front of her class, prompting her to cover up her drinking with a lie that she is pregnant. Another drunken night that goes too far sees Kate waking up in the middle of nowhere after having shot up with some homeless junkies.

Although her husband doesn’t feel the need to change, Kate decides she must sober up and attends an AA meeting. After a clunky sober montage we then revisit Kate after a few months on the wagon. It’s tempting then to describe Smashed as a movie that’s more about recovery than it is addiction, but in truth Smashed seems content to merely capture snapshots of different points in the process. The film comes in at a slender 81 minutes, so it’s clear this was never meant to be a comprehensive breakdown of addiction and recovery. We join and leave Kate at moments that feel like they could be occurring in the middle of her story.

Sometimes that’s to the film’s detriment. We get hints at Kate’s back story that feel jarringly unexplored, and skipping past stages in the recovery process often feel convenient as they surely would have been the most challenging to portray on screen. The main focus therefore falls on Kate’s relationship with Charlie, and as their relationship and Kate’s career start to crumble there’s an interesting thread about how the honesty that comes with sobriety can be just as destructive as the initial dependency.

For what it sets out to achieve and the amount it chooses to portray, Smashed does a solid job – made all the more notable thanks to Winstead. From her heartbreakingly raw and fearless scenes as an unwieldy drunkard, to those with pain, anguish and struggle etched onto her face as a now sober young woman all too aware that her life is falling apart around her, Winstead loudly announces that there’s a lot more to her than simply being the love interest of a Vampire Hunter. Aided by a similarly strong supporting cast (which includes Megan Mullally, Octavia Spencer and a wonderful turn from Nick Offerman), Winstead doesn’t expose Smashed, but rather garners it more credit and attention than perhaps it would otherwise have deserved.