By midlandsmovies, Oct 6 2019 05:59PM
Her Smell (2019) Dir. Alex Ross Perry
Told over 5 separate sequences interspersed with old video footage, new music drama Her Smell stars Elisabeth Moss as Becky Something, a troubled and self-destructive singer on a downward trajectory.
Backstage after a gig, her intense mood swings are not helped by her reliance on a shaman before her self-appointed God-like behaviour angers her ex-partner (played by Dan Stevens) who arrives with their child which culminates in Becky spiralling down into a substance induced blackout.
Months later at a recording studio, the band’s manager Howard Goodman (Eric Stoltz) is frustrated at their lack of progress whilst Becky intimidates his label’s new signing Akergirls. With her unlikable demeanour and jealous aggression, Becky pushes her band’s drummer (Gayle Rankin) and bassist (Agyness Deyn) to quit before we soon jump forward to find Becky supporting the now more famous Akergirls at one of their own shows.
Elisabeth Moss is absolutely brilliant as the dysfunctional front woman whose star rises and falls (mostly falls) in a cacophony of self-obsession. A danger to both herself and others, Moss manages to keep a wholly unlikeable character just on the right side of sympathy.
However, her behaviour gets more extreme as she violently attacks her old band mate and verbally assaults her mother. The film brilliantly teases out the exposition and by the mid-way point there are hints of an abusive relationship by an absent father.
“There are no bad days”, says her bandmate, inferring they’re all terrible at this point as her burgeoning ego leads to further erratic behaviour. She calls out for the Goddess as she tries to channel the other-worldly into a creative endeavour that goes beyond the surface of mass-consumed pop culture but becomes a cliche herself.
But as Becky’s behaviour reaches a crescendo of rotten on and off-stage antics, the film eventually slows down in a very poignant chamber piece scene with Becky and her daughter. A beautiful and delicate piano cover of Heaven by Bryan Adams calms both Becky and the viewer as we see her finally coming to terms with her past actions.
Like my enjoyment of Lords of Chaos, I tend to gravitate towards the darker aspects of a touring rock band rather than the glossy pop stylings the like of which was covered in Vox Lux. Her Smell goes beyond the traditional take of rock misadventures but luckily the over-the-top characters don’t fall into the trap of the bro-dude stylings The Dirt, where the perm-coiffed hedonists of Mötley Crüe somewhat glamorised these nasty behaviours.
The songs in the film are actually the weakest part with the sub-Avril Lavigne American 3-chord pop-punk being musically and lyrically awful. But such a small part doesn’t take away from the successes of both the protagonist and the supporting cast.
A reunion leads the film towards a more upbeat conclusion and Moss’ terrific central performance allows us to be drawn into her shocking exploits without condoning what she is doing to those around her. As she poisons herself one event at a time, the interesting dynamics are slowly teased out and revealed as the narrative progresses.
Whilst the film doesn’t wholly take this type of rock 'n' roll redemption story in a brand new direction, from the excellent performances to the grotesque but engaging breakdowns, Her Smell is an intense and satisfying tour down a boulevard of broken dreams.