Review: Her Smell

Written and directed by Alex Ross Perry, a self-destructive punk rocker (Elisabath Moss) struggles with sobriety while trying to recapture the creative inspiration that led her band to success. Also starring: Agyness Deyn, Gayle Rankin, Dan Stevens, Amber Heard, Cara Delevingne, Ashley Benson, Dylan Gelula, Virginia Madsen, Eric Stoltz and Eka Darville.

In recent years Elisabeth Moss has portrayed: a handmaiden, a gangster, a detective, a copywriter, a journalist and a depressed addict, to name a few, so going punk was well within her wheelhouse and she was perfectly cast in the role Becky Something. Moss is quite possibly one of the most reliable actors in Hollywood, she never gives a bad performance and this is certainly no exception, her portrayal of Becky is manic, chaotic and gripping. Her character is frighteningly unhinged at times and the wildness to Moss’ eyes does it the ultimate justice and leaves you completely unable to predict what she might do next. She has a strong support cast, particularly with Deyn and Rankin playing her fellow bandmates and decades long victims of her downward spiral, but there’s no mistaking that appropriately for the story, this film is entirely the Becky show.

The chaos that Becky brings is brilliantly translated into the direction, scene for scene it follows the emotion it’s portraying, when she’s losing control, the editing and movement of the camera reflect that and when we see a calm, sober side of her, the camera becomes very still and the edits much fewer. It gives the style an unrelenting energy for the most part, you’re dragged into the middle of her world and its less fly on the wall, more face first into the action. At times it even feels as though things will take an excessively dark turn as it’s paired with a score that gives its dramatic moments a tinge of thriller, pushing their impact to a very enjoyable level. The effectiveness of those styles is only made better still by the writing, it has a brilliant patter to it that’s almost Shakespearean in its rhythms, Becky feels as though she’s not just ranting, she’s prophesising and it’s almost as if she’s reciting poetry rather than off her face ramblings. One of the very clever things about the writing is that the story itself doesn’t have that much happening, for the most part it’s simply a few different moments of the characters mostly in one space, talking but that fantastic energy it has makes it seem as though there’s so much more going on.

It explores a lot of different themes, mostly fame and addiction but a huge part of it is the fierce loyalty between bandmates and female friends, Mari and Ali refuse to leave Becky behind no matter how unreliable, unhinged or unavailable she is, they stick it out as long as possible. Everything has a breaking point but these women refuse to give up on her because they believe in her and her talent, and are hanging on to the person she used to be, it’s great to watch and incredibly genuine. Another one of the clever aspects to the writing is that Becky is one of the few characters whom you never actually see take drugs, you know from her behaviour how much there must be in her system but it’s presented in a way that leaves you to assume she’s always high, it works extremely well and cuts out the need for unnecessary scenes.

There were some great choices of songs for the film, although there are actually only a few performances, it was vital to make it feel like they were a strong band and beginning with the classic, Another Girl, Another Planet worked really well, especially a good choice to match Moss’ voice. However, surprisingly perhaps the most effective choice of song, for a film about a punk band, was having Moss sing Bryan Adams’ Heaven, a slow, emotional performance that’s mesmerising to watch and perfectly signifies an important moment. Although, Moss performing the very raw and rough Control is another highlight, and you wouldn’t be judged for finding a memorable moment in her performing Garbage Dump by the notorious cult leader and murderer, Charles Manson.

It feels as though director Perry really capitalised on the chaotic energy that Moss brings so well, knowing her talent first hand from his previous work with her on Queen of Earth and Listen Up Phillip. His style moves so flawlessly to reflects the events at hand, so much so that it’s hard to take your eyes off of it, pulling you so close to Moss in yet another fantastic performance, she’s wild and unhinged and it’s an absolute pleasure to watch. The film has an entirely brilliant energy, it’s unpredictable and keeps such a consistently fast pace for the most part so much that when it finally slows down, it’s almost serene. It’s a real shame that this film didn’t get a bigger release or audience in the UK, it’s likely if it ever makes its way to Netflix that it will get a resurgence of fans but for now, it’s incredibly worth seeking out, especially if you’re a fan of the ever wonderful Elisabeth Moss.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ ½ 

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