Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a 1st grade teacher struggling to maintain her public face as her alcohol consumption gets more and more out of control. After throwing up in class and barely managing to talk her way out of it (in a way no-one ever should), she has a heart to heart with fellow teacher David (Nick Offerman) who takes her to his AA group.
James Ponsoldt’s drama focuses its attention not so much on the emotional violence, vomit and bed-wetting of Kate’s addiction but rather the difficulties she faces trying to get (and stay) sober. It resists the temptation to throw in extra plot lines to add to the drama but rather allows Kate’s experiences to dominate as her relationships alter and she endeavours to hold on to what she had while her life takes a totally new direction. Like a breezier Half Nelson it is the simple elements of the script and the lightness of touch in Ponsoldt’s direction that are to the film’s credit.
This delicacy of plotting really highlights the beauty and simplicity of Winstead’s performance. While allowing her the showier moments of a crack-induced rant at the homeless and a screaming, crying, pissing episode in a store it is the wonderful honesty of Kate’s attempts to straighten out her life that actually show what Winstead is capable of.
She brings a real warmth to the screen and to the relationship with her chaotic husband, Charlie (Aaron Paul who plays the partying husband role with dexterity and just enough humility to stop him from coming across as a real jerk).
Surrounded by relationships seemingly fuelled by alcohol Kate is not exactly best placed to try to move away from the demon drink and, understandably, her support network shifts during her sessions as she gets closer to the empathetic Jenny (Octavia Spencer) and starts to lose grip on her marriage. Before her decision to get clean she relies heavily on her hard drinking husband and her sweet-natured boss (Megan Mullally) whose great desire to see the best in Kate makes it far too easy for her to talk her way out of things. Once she has thrown off those enabling shackles Winstead brings to the fore Kate’s vulnerability and her understandable (if impossible) wish to retain status quo even as her life alters indelibly.
Smashed in on general release from today (Friday December 14th 2013).