April 19th, 2019
MOVIE: HER SMELL
STARRING: ELIZABETH MOSS, ERIC STOLTZ, DAN STEVENS, AGYNESS DEYN, GAYLE RANKIN
DIRECTED BY: ALEX ROSS PERRY
Her Smell broke me up inside. I felt like I had taken a trip back in time. To a time when I drank to get away, to a time in my teenage years, to the 1990’s, and a time where alternative rock still mattered. Music has been injected into my brains since I was a little kid. My father played the piano so much he neglected all responsibilities. My mother was a professional of musical theater, my sister introduced me to Pearl Jam, and my brother was a punk rocker that I followed everywhere. His band would play Chicago block parties, we would go see bands like Green Day or Weezer at the Aragon ballroom, spent our summers listening to Q101, and drinking slurpees. And yet, all of those memories have nothing to do with Alex Ross Perry’s film. I just related to Becky Something on a destructive level- played magnificently with reckless abandonment by Elizabeth Moss. The portrayal is of a Courtney Love-style rock star, that at one point showed her amazing talent for writing songs, now clearly addicted to drugs, booze, and her fame, and we witness it all in five-parts. In her rock element, at her absolute worst, her road to recovery, and a full realization of what matters in life. Her Smell is an emotional roller coaster that hits so hard, it rocked me down to my soul.
The beginning portion of Her Smell may seem like the worst of it all, but it is the start of a hypnotizing descent into madness. The name of the group is Something She, fronted by Becky on guitar and vocals, Marielle Hell (Agyness Deyn) on bass, and Ali van der Wolff (Gayle Rankin) on drums, but the “show” is Becky. Her post performance ritual involves being followed by a shaman, swigging bottles of vodka, shouting at manager Howard (Eric Stoltz), berating her ex-husband Danny (Dan Stevens), and pretending to pay attention to infant daughter Tama. It’s often scary, while her bandmates have enabled her actions, but frequently find themselves on the receiving end of her abuse. The persona of Becky Something is too much to handle, a fascinating train wreck that you can’t take your eyes off of, and Alex Ross Perry writes and directs it like an alcohol soaked symphony.
Perry had previously worked with Moss on his film Queen of Earth, which is another narrative about a destructive friendship breaking down. It’s clear he has found his muse and the unique ability to capture extremely emotional performances from The Handmaid’s Tale star. I like to call Her Smell the perfect follow-up to last years hit- A Star is Born, but with less gloss. Each section is not one long shot, but it feels that way. I’m not talking about the single-take gimmick you see in Birdman or the rotating sets in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope. This is a complete, near documentary style capturing of the rock and roll lifestyle. The sweat and glitter glows on Moss’ face, with her wicked smile, and physically throwing herself on the floor, a true submerged performance for the ages.
Later, a long recording session is the second straw of Becky’s antics, running her bandmates out of the studio, and forcing her to confront Howard’s new up and coming band called the Akergirls (Cara Delevingne on drums, Dylan Gelula on vocals, and Ashley Benson on guitar). Becky begins to see the writing on the walls, that her destruction will be the end of the bands success, or even worse the end of her life. The following two segments include one more shot for Becky to “get her shit together”, only to fail miserably with violent outbursts towards those in her way. It is the fourth and fifth segments that bring the journey full circle, in a painful, sobering, and powerfully emotional ending. Her Smell is a movie that will test you, challenges our patience for those that need help, and in that way it is incredibly human.
The only factor that keeps Her Smell from being four stars is the original music lacking in a memorable tune, but this isn’t as much about the music, as it is about living. This is about a person desperately in need of help, wasting her talents away. That’s why I cried my eyes out at the end of Her Smell. I related to her pain, her embarrassment, the shame, and the fear to confront the future. We all take different paths to discover what truly matters in life and Her Smell is a beautiful reminder of that. Alex Ross Perry understands it and Elizabeth Moss rocks it out.
See Her Smell this weekend at The Music Box Theatre in Chicago or a theater near you.
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady