Her Smell: A Visceral Punk Rock Whirlwind Full Of Chaos, Glitter, Sweat, And Mysticism
Writer/director Alex Ross Perry’s latest effort, Her Smell, is explosive, and without out a doubt, it’s his greatest achievement to date. Spearheaded by an absolutely go-for-broke performance from Elizabeth Moss, the film is a beautifully chaotic cyclone character study full of glitter, sweat, and mysticism that will absolutely leave you drenched in its singular aroma.
Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss) is a '90s punk rock superstar who once filled arenas with her grungy all-female trio Something She. Now she plays smaller venues while grappling with motherhood, exhausted bandmates, nervous record company executives, and a new generation of rising talent eager to usurp her stardom. When Becky's chaos and excesses derail a recording session and national tour, she finds herself shunned, isolated and alone. Forced to get sober, temper her demons, and reckon with the past, she retreats from the spotlight and tries to recapture the creative inspiration that led her band to success.
Her Smell possesses a visceral energy that immediately wraps you up in its dizzying madness. The film doesn’t loosen its grip until the credits roll, and at times, its so tight that you can barely breathe. The narrative is thin, and really it’s nothing new, but the performances and execution elevate the end result through the stratosphere. All of its efforts are directed solely on the characters, and slowly and subtly, it reveals shades of depth and definition to each individual character and their relationships, creating layers that the audience gets to unravel. The characters feel completely authentic, and it’s absolutely spellbinding watching them interact with one another. There’s an exciting theatrical quality to its design and approach that is deeply gripping and electric. Even though there’s not much happening narratively, you can’t help but be enthralled in the insanity.
Structurally, the film is similar to Danny Boyle’s 2015 biopic, Steve Jobs, in that it is broken into sections from different periods of the characters life. With Her Smell, Perry broke it into five crucial and meaty scenes from Becky Something’s post-glory days career, padded with 90s-era home move style footage of the Becky’s band, Something She, in their heyday. The context these segments provider allows the viewer to immediately understand what the band used to be, who they are now, and where they are in their downward spiral. These flashback codas really help to emphasize the degradation the band has endured due to Becky’s eccentric insanity and ruthlessly megalomaniacal stranglehold. They give the film an added element of the past trying to wrestle with the present — something which almost begins to obscure any potential future for Becky or the band.
The film picks up in the band’s fading glory, chronicling Becky’s destruction and reconstruction, as she creates tumultuous waves in her relationships that she must find a way to calm over the film’s journey. At its core, it’s about identity, and it makes a powerful statement on female solidarity with its final image. Being that it’s character-driven, a large part of its success is due to Elizabeth Moss, who delivers a career-best performance. Her Smell marks her third collaboration with Alex Ross Perry, and she quite literally goes for broke and feels totally at ease letting the entire production rest on her shoulders. She is incendiary and sometimes terrifying. She embraces Becky’s erratic behavior with open arms, expressing a wide range of emotionality within the breadth of a single shot. Backing her up is a superb supporting cast including Cara Delevingne, Dan Stevens, Agyness Deyn, Gayle Rankin, Ashley Benson, Dylan Gelula, Eric Stoltz, and Amber Heard, each giving strong, emotionally resonant performances.
Alex Ross Perry’s kinetic direction and the grimy gloss of Sean Price William’s electrifying cinematography give the film a nice stylization. The film marks the sixth consecutive collaboration between the pair, which really shows on screen. There is a musicality to Perry and William’s syncopated orchestrations that creates a visual whirlwind that matches the intensity of Moss’ performance. Perry’s script is also phenomenally sharp — full of pithy one-liners, monologues, back and forth character exchanges, showdowns and verbal spares — and he proves that he can write really rich dialogue. When you factor in the incredible sound design by Ryan M. Price and the precision cuts of Robert Greene, you have a wholly unique experience.
Watching a rock star burning their life, career, and image to the ground and pissing on the ashes has never been so engrossing or entertaining. Her Smell is pitch-perfect, even when it sings off-key, with each aspect working in harmony to create the most visceral film that’s been released so far this year.
Recommendation: Don’t sleep on this one. Once you see it, you’ll never forget it.
Rating: 5 terrifying expressions outta 5.
What do you think? Were you blown away by Moss’ performance? Did the film resonate with you on a visceral level? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!