Film Review: ‘Her Smell’ Is A Rock & Roll Nightmare
Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell is a pungent little film that wrinkles your nose like a fart in an elevator. Which is the biggest compliment I can give it. The director gives you a front row seat to a woman’s self-destruction, making you as uncomfortable as the characters that orbit around her. Addiction is ugly. Mental illness is confronting. Her Smell has the courage to present both without a filter. It wouldn’t work, however, if the walking, talking disaster at the center of the film wasn’t utterly magnetic. And Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss in an awards-worthy performance) is certainly that.
Her Smell begins with a flashback in the form of a home movie. Something She, a trio of female rockers, is at the top of the heap. Their music is selling, they just inked a major label deal and the women can barely wipe the smiles off their face as they realize that they are living the dream. The next time we catch up with the band, however, things have changed. Drastically. Years have passed and Something She is now playing in smaller venues and slowly coming apart at the seams. The issue is Becky’s free fall into the abyss due to rampant drug use.
In one of the more memorable introductions to a character in 2019, Becky finishes a gig and proceeds to terrorize everyone backstage. When she’s not hurling shrill abuse at her manager, ex-husband and fellow bandmates, she’s trying to complete a cleansing ritual with the shaman she has tucked away in her dressing room. In less competent hands, this could have veered into Spinal Tap territory. In Perry’s, however, it’s a terrifying spectacle. Becky is a nuclear weapon waiting to be detonated and there’s a palpable sense that it could happen at any minute.
Moss deserves endless praise for bringing Becky to life. She doesn’t worry about making her likable. The front woman is presented as a self-involved monster, who ignores her child, uses people and generally spreads nastiness with each breath. Moss approaches the character with the same gravitas as Lady Macbeth (there is something almost Shakespearean about her rambling monologues). The actor isn’t afraid to be a villain and is wise enough not to ask or expect any sympathy. However, the patience and care of those around her suggests that she, at least at one point, deserved it.
While Becky is the diseased heart of Her Smell, the band and the era (the date is never specified but it reeks of the ’90s) is made real by those around her. There are her bandmates Marielle, also an addict, and Ali (played a scene-stealing Gayle Rankin), who keeps Something She together through sheer force of will. Their explosive dynamic adds another layer to the film, and you know the bitter end is nigh when Becky alienates them out of the group, one foul act at a time. The studio scene where she axes them and basically cannibalizes another band is brutal.
And then we reach rock bottom, which isn’t glamorous or bad ass. It’s messy and embarrassing and deeply human. The final act of the film is about redemption. But instead of giving us a Rocky-like moment of triumph, it settles for something a lot less dramatic. Survival. Which makes the incredibly tense final moments all the more rewarding and believable. Her Smell was in and out of theaters in a matter of weeks, but it ranks as one of the best films of the year. It’s available to buy, rent and download now.