There’s something magical about watching an actor truly become the character. Avid filmgoers remember such performances and become lasting fans; this type of role is often career defining. So each week, Tribeca will shine a spotlight on a standout performance in a current release that we feel is noteworthy, either because it marks a change of direction or a career milestone for an established actor or because it serves as a breakthrough for an emerging one.

Smashed first screened at Sundance 2012, and has since been widely praised for its visceral portrayal of addiction and its consequences. Mary Elizabeth Winstead gives a celebrated performance as Kate, an alcoholic teacher whose affliction, which she had been able to hide, begins to manifest itself at school.

Winstead is supported by such wonderful actors as Aaron Paul, Megan Mullally, Mary Kay Place and the Oscar-winning Octavia Spencer, but one member of this ensemble particularly stands out—Parks and Rec stalwart Nick Offerman. Primarily known for his comedic skills, Offerman gives a sensitive and believable performance as the school’s vice principal, who has more in common with Kate that he publicly admits.

Nick Offerman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Smashed / Courtesy of Sony Classics

Offerman’s character Dave Davies is the first to become aware of the seriousness of Kate’s problems. After witnessing her drinking inappropriately, Dave discreetly approaches her in the teacher’s lounge and confesses that he too once had a problem with alcohol. Offerman is a marvel in this scene, evincing fragility and strength in equal parts. Knowing that he could scare Kate away by talking about his path to sober living, and aware that only Kate can make the decision to seek sobriety, Dave maintains casual eye contact with her over their microwave lunches, careful to keep up an air of aloofness and humor while masking his growing realization that Kate desperately needs help. These interchanges have the feel of an intense chess match, and Offerman and Winstead truly complement each other as actors.

The two share another remarkable scene that showcases their talent a bit later in the film. Newly sober but still shaky, Kate accepts a ride home from Dave and the two initially make small talk. The tenor of the conversation changes, however, when Dave confesses that the price of sobriety for him is isolation. Offerman effectively conveys Dave’s resigned suffering and longing with his whole body, using nervous twitches and an awkward, halting voice. After he makes a candid confession, Offerman subtly conveys Dave’s regret and mortification through his expressive eyes. Offerman’s performance is without pretense—he truly becomes this damaged individual who has been alone for too long and now must face the consequences of his honesty.

Smashed is currently in limited release, and will be expanding in following weeks. If, after enjoying his powerful performance in Smashed, you can’t get enough Offerman (and we know we can’t), be sure to catch another tremendous performance by the star in Somebody Up There Likes Me, which will be released in March 2013 by Tribeca Film.

Watch the trailer: