Her Smell review Elisabeth MossYear: 2018
Director(s): Alex Ross Perry
Writer(s): Alex Ross Perry
Region of Origin: US
Rating: n/a
Color, 134 mins

Synopsis: A self-destructive punk rocker struggles with sobriety while trying to recapture the creative inspiration that led her band to success. (Source)

Tortured, self-destructive rockstars have been played out. There are no shortage of tragic icons littered throughout music history, and there are even more films depicting their rise and fall. Still, Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell takes a deep dive into the subject like very few have before. To be clear, his latest is a long, harrowing road of excess and psychological torture. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s also worth every single second. Beyond the madness, is an undeniably empowering show of female strength and energy. Perry dissects the pitfalls of artistic excess by shining a light on an ensemble of incredible women. From  Elisabeth Moss’ all-in performance, to Perry’s deft control of spiraling chaos, this is one of the year’s standout experiences, exploring friendship, betrayal and forgiveness in a way that commands to be seen.

Rather than a traditional narrative, the film offers a handful of extended snapshots. These segments are spread out over a number of years. Each collide and clash as an all-female punk band called Something She rises to fame and implodes infamously. At the center of it all, is the band’s abrasive lead-singer, Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss). Driven by more than just ego, she’s a woman who has given herself over to something she can no longer control. She’s absolutely toxic, abusing substances, bandmates, family and friends as she spirals down the drain. The story showcases a curated selection of manic episodes, ones in which her chaos consumes her and those around her until there’s nothing left.

Her Smell Elisabeth MossFree from a straightforward plot, Perry’s use of just five prolonged, disjointed scenes fully immerse us into Becky and co’s headspace. Perry orchestrates the madness masterfully. Each scene washes over us like crashing waves of misery and pain as an abstract soundtrack crescendos alongside the action. Blending primal abstraction with pure human dissonance, Perry captures a myriad of relationships. Each one explores the importance of being able to trust one another personally and professionally, and the danger of sinking into our own insular worlds. With scenes ranging from literal backstage rituals, a torpedoed recording session and even a doomed comeback, a bitter picture forms, but the film isn’t without its grace.

Underneath it all, Perry poses the question of just how far we can push ourselves until there’s no going back. Further, how much can those who’ve sworn to stay by our side take before it’s too late? With Perry’s knack for unflinching realism, the film makes us truly feel the frustration, anger and zeal of its characters. Right there, alongside everything, there isn’t a second we can look away from Becky’s train wreck, and there isn’t a moment we stop caring.

Her Smell review The film’s cast matches Perry’s frantic direction note-for-note. There isn’t a single weak link here, and everyone gets a chance to have their moment, despite this being the house that Moss built. Moss has created a new icon. Reminiscent of the raw aggression of an early Courtney Love, Moss literally takes center stage, burns it to the grown, and laughs maniacally amidst the ashes. It’s completely mesmerizing but also horrific. As her fellow bandmates, Agyness Deyn’s Marielle and Gayle Rankin’s Ali step up when the story calls for it. Each are complex stalwarts going through their own struggles, adding depth to the film’s portrait of music and mayhem. On the side, Dan Stevens is great as Becky’s long-suffering ex, while Amber Heard, Cara Delevingne, Ashley Benson and Dylan Gelula represent a diverse set of peers. Last but not least, Eric Stoltz knocks it outta the park with Howard, the band’s longtime manager.

Her Smell is as raw and real as it gets. It drags us into the pit of its hellish heroine’s nightmare with unflinching resolve. Though it may prove a tiring experience for some, nothing is wasted here. Perry captures raw aggression with feverish aplomb. There is a reason behind the disorder, however, giving way to a story that resonates as powerfully as Becky’s tantrums. More than just a story about watching its characters crash and burn, Perry’s film has a heart that gradually reveals itself. The film concludes on a genuine high note, bringing everything and everyone together for an anthemic celebration of female strength and courage.

SG