Filmmaker James Ponsoldt‘s feature debut Off The Black premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006. It was met with a lackluster response, but everyone seemed to praise the performances despite the troubled screenplay. After seeing last year’s heavily buzzed-about film Like Crazy, Mary Elizabeth Winstead contacted producer Jonathan Schwartz and Andrea Sperling because she wanted to be in a film like the one they produced. This year, Ponsoldt, Schwartz and Sperling returned to Park City Utah with Smashed, which features a must-see tour de force performance from Winstead.

The character-driven script follows a teacher dealing with alcoholism, and the problems that her marriage poses in her efforts to become sober. Winstead plays the teacher, and Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) plays her almost-always drunk husband. The story is basic and obvious (as in that it has the standard after school special character arc) but the details are polished and authentic-feeling.

The screenplay also features some nice moments of comedy. For example, when Winstead’s character turns up hungover to work and vomits in front of her class, she lies about being pregnant to keep her job. This lie snowballs into some funny bits later on. The fact that the film has comedic moments shouldn’t be surprising considering it was co-written by sketch comic Susan Burke.

But the film is Mary Elizabeth Winstead‘s to own. Winstead’s performance is powerful, moving — a must see. It will bring you to verge of tears. Aaron Paul has a nice turn, but nothing out of the realm that we’ve seen in Breaking Bad. It’s also worth noting that Octavia Spencer (The Help) has a nice supporting performance.

/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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Peter Sciretta is a film geek and popcultured fanboy living in Los Angeles. He created /Film in 2005.

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