Despite taking a full-on approach to the issue of alcoholism, filmmaker Ponsoldt undermines his own case by telling a story about the problem itself rather than the people caught up in it. And by avoiding the bigger questions, he leaves us with characters and a situation that are hard to care about, no matter how harrowing the story gets.
Schoolteacher Kate (Winstead) is a mess. Out drinking every night with her husband Charlie (Paul), she turns up drunk to teach her classroom of 6-year-olds. One morning when she's sick, she lets them believe she's pregnant. But lying to the kids sparks her guilt, which gets worse when a colleague (Offerman) covers for her and her boss (Mullally) throws a baby shower. So she joins AA and gets help from her sponsor Jenny (Spencer) to straighten out her life. But once she's sober she wonders whether she can stay with the still-drunk Charlie.
Essentially the film lets all of the characters off the hook since it's the alcohol that's the real villain, not any failing of willpower or self-discipline. In this world, it's not possible to be "the kind of people who have a glass of wine with dinner": you're either a falling-down drunk or a pious teetotaller. And even worst, both Kate and Charlie have tragic back-stories that explain why they are alcoholics. So the film's approach is purely superficial, which makes it impossible to identify with the characters or even root for them to sort out their messy lives.
At least the actors manage to inject some authenticity into the script. Winstead gives a raw, passionate performance that's especially strong when Kate is sober (the drunken scenes feel showy), while Paul finds engaging subtext in Charlie's approach to life. Intriguingly, the film's most complex character is Kate's drunken mother, played perfectly by Place in one searingly awkward scene. Elsewhere, filmmaker Ponsoldt finds glimmers of hope here and there, making the most out of the naturalistic cinematography. But the moralistic approach never lets us think for ourselves.
Run time: 81 mins
In Theaters: Friday 14th December 2012
Box Office USA: $0.4M
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
Production compaines: Super Crispy Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
Fresh: 86 Rotten: 16
IMDB: 6.8 / 10
Director: James Ponsoldt
Producer: Jennifer Cochis, Andrea Sperling
Screenwriter: James Ponsoldt, Susan Burke
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Kate Hannah, Aaron Paul as Charlie Hannah, Octavia Spencer as Jenny, Nick Offerman as Dave Davies, Megan Mullally as Principal Barnes, Mary Kay Place as Rochelle, Kyle Gallner as Owen Hannah, Bree Turner as Freda, Mackenzie Davis as Millie, Patti Allison as Rocky, Richmond Arquette as Arlo, Natalie Dreyfuss as Amber, Anjini Taneja Azhar as Winnie, Susan Burke as Cora, Danilo Di Julio as Jimmy
Also starring: Andrea Sperling