Saturday, October 20, 2012
"Smashed": an alcoholic teacher, after firing, gets sober but will her husband?
In a sequence very near the beginning of “Smashed” (James Ponsoldt), grade school teacher Kate Hannah (Mary Elizabeth Windstead) imbibes some whiskey in her car in the teacher’s lot before starting her first grade glass. She seems really into the job, pampering the kids with their English and arithmetic lessons. One kid comes to the board to work a problem. She stands aside, lunges for the wastebasket, and vomits. She apologizes to “you guys”. One of the kids figures out that she’s pregnant and gets her off the hook. There is some sympathy at school for what seems like a horrible incident.
We’ve seen this kind of grossness before. Roman Polanski’s “Carnage” (Jan. 14) had a scene with such utter humiliation. It happened to president George H. W. Bush at a state dinner in 1992, before he started downhill.
In fact, we don’t see the title of the “film” until this sequence and 12 other minutes have passed (in an 85-minute feature) that seems mercifully brief. Hannah is married, but her nondescript, spoiled husband Charlie (Aaron Paul) is on the bottle too.
It has to get worse before “it gets better”. Kate lives her lie for a while, but not before getting thrown out of a convenience store for peeing on the floor, and then snorting with a homeless woman outside a bar. Meanwhile, the kids notice she isn’t getting bigger, so she has to make up another story, about miscarriage – because she gets pressed by the kids concerning the politics of abortion.
A sympathetic vice principal (Nick Offerman), who has recovered from alcoholism himself, gets her into an AA group. But now she will have to deal with the fact that her husband will really get left behind. There is a scene where Charlie is biking drunk on an LA street (Santa Monica Blvd?), and you wonder if he just never learned to ride a bicycle.
The real principal Barnes(Megan Mullahy) has a quiet showdown with Kate, who is getting uncomfortable with her lies. Barnes (the same name as the dean who threw me out of William and Mary in 1961!) is sympathetic at first, but when Kate feels compelled to “confess” her lie, Barnes suddenly changes her tone and says, “You have no idea what you’ve done. I can’t have you in this school any longer.”
All of that reminds me of a confrontation I had with a principal in December of 2005 when I was a substitute, after I had told a teaching intern about my website (in response to a real political controversy in the news) when the school knew (but wouldn’t tell me) that it was concerned about the provocative nature of one particular fiction screenplay on my site. What must have happened behind the scenes here would make a real movie. (See my “BIllBoushka” blog, July 27, 2007).
The official site is here.
I saw this film at the Angelika Moasic in Merrifield VA, before a small Saturday afternoon gathering. The facility seems a bit palatial for this film. The cafe sandwiches there are tasty and low-fat, if pricey.