VOD film review: Her Smell
Elisabeth Moss’ exquisite pain9
Dan Stevens’ beleaguered single dad9
Complex female characters10
Katherine McLaughlin | On 13, Sep 2019
Director: Alex Ross Perry
Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Amber Heard, Cara Delevingne
Watch Her Smell online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Indie filmmaker Alex Ross Perry has described his sixth feature film as a five-act tragedy about girl punk bands. It plays out over just five scenes filled with a Shakespearean-tinged brand of passionate monologues and vicious back-stabbing that charts the rise and fall of an iconic singer, whose addiction to booze and drugs threatens to throw her band’s successful run off course. This portrait of a fictional 90s-era punk singer is all meltdowns, long takes and passive aggressive conduct that starts with the bad behaviour and then refreshingly moves in another direction.
In the lead role of Becky Something, Elisabeth Moss transfers the writhing intensity of her performance from her previous collaboration with Perry in Queen of Earth and sprinkles it with a more nuanced fragility that serves the story well. She creates a hugely memorable and convincingly noxious character, whose back stage antics have a whiff of Courtney Love’s fiercely confrontational persona back in the day.
Moss is backed up by a spectacular cast of women; Agyness Deyn and Gayle Rankin play her bandmates, Virginia Madsen bears the brunt of some nasty altercations as her mum, Amber Heard is radiant as a music rival of sorts, and Cara Delevingne, Ashley Benson and Dylan Gelula are the enthusiastic new girl group who worship Becky’s alluring public persona.
Behind the scenes, it’s a different story, with her ex-husband (Dan Stevens, a persuasive mix of deflated and frustrated) and her manager (played by Eric Stoltz) warding off her caustic demons. The high-calibre ensemble cast each play authentically credible characters who either enable or spit in the face of a figure living on the highs of fame and coke dust and intent on hitting the self-destruct button.
To spend time with Becky can be an ugly experience and Perry creates a claustrophobic ambience with a mix of Steadicam and handheld cameras that swirl around this huge personality and get in her face as she screams people down. Each scene vividly expresses Becky’s mindset and skilfully switches moods to mirror that of the protagonists, whether she’s being a paranoid monster, a creative genius in the recording studio, a gentle and remorseful pianist or a nervous wreck.
With Her Smell, Perry has created a glittery, dreamy and volatile concoction that throws the viewer into the grubby thick of it, as seen so many times before in rise and fall documentaries about icons who have it all. That is, until it makes a surprising and genuinely moving turn into a sincere depiction of a musician struggling with addiction. In that sense, it has more in common with Patty Schemel’s story, as seen in the 2011 doc Hit so Hard. Perry is more interested in the celebrity skin that musicians put on for their audience and how that clashes with their personal lives and mental health. It’s a warts-and-all character portrait that revels in the repugnant stench of wild debauchery, while also tenderly unravelling the multi-faceted life of a punk rock star.
Her Smell is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of an £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription.