Above: director James Ponsoldt and actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead visit the Variety Studio to talk about "Smashed" at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
This past weekend I saw "Silver Linings Playbook" (at a Film Independent forum screening) and "Smashed," movies that are kind of a matched set of personal instability, one focused on mental illness, the other on alcoholism.
The films are also closer in caliber than their seemingly divergent awards paths would indicate.
The audience award winner at the Toronto International Film Festival and a popular Oscar nomination pick, "Silver Linings" has a great manic energy, as advertised. But it also took a while to seem real. For starters, the film goes into heavy expository mode to establish its setup, and there's a kind of cartoonish element to the characters. Jennifer Lawrence, for example, is pretty damn mesmerizing on screen, but her character seemed more of a construct than a three-dimensional human being until roughly the midsection of the movie.
"Smashed," on the other hand, seemed authentic to me from the first minute to the last, and — not that they're competing against each other — I'd put Mary Elizabeth Winstead's emotionally diverse performance in the lead as Kate straight up against Bradley Cooper's in "Silver Linings." "Smashed" is a smaller, more intimate movie (and short — 79 minutes before the credits roll), but it is unceasingly human without being sentimental, a hell of a tightrope act to walk.
"Silver Linings" is an awards contender in five major categories, while all the awards chatter for "Smashed" has centered on Winstead, and realistically, I understand why. Still, I find something nagging about it. Winstead's performance makes the movie worth watching — but to be clear, the character and story created by writers Susan Burke and James Ponsoldt (who also directed) lends itself to that performance. So I'm not sure all credit is being given where credit is due.