NYFF Review: ‘Her Smell’

Her Smell | Alex Ross Perry | NYFF 2018

Rock and roll is a nasty business. This is portrayed in a most interesting fashion in Alex Ross Perry’s latest feature film, Her Smell, which chronicles the free fall of rock star Becky Something (Elizabeth Moss), lead singer of 90s rock band Something She. We see her rise and fall through a set of five scenes that play out in realtime, spread out through a time-period of 10 years (a la Steve Jobs) with a few various flashbacks to the band’s heydey, back when they were a hungry trio of girls getting their first taste of real hard-earned success.

The rest of the band is rounded out by Marielle Hell (Agyness Deyn) and Ali van der Wolff (Gayle Rankin). They have demons of their own but nothing quite like the spiraling shitstorm that is Becky. They’re growing tired of her antics, as is their manager Howard Goodman (Eric Stolz), who is also the head of the label that put their life stock into the success of their band. We see just how out of control Beck’s relationship is with the band through a backstage encounter with her bandmates, Howard, her mother (Virginia Madsen), and her ex Danny (Dan Stevens).

Becky plays up to all the rock-n-roll stereotypes, forming a hard drug and drinking problem that becomes a nasty cocktail for her insecurities and the realities that maybe the band peaked too soon or that she is now creatively broke of new ideas. They’re all unwilling to face the reality of the situation but soon Beck pushes them all too far – to the point where she comes close to not only isolating herself but ripping the band apart from the inside out. When she learns that Howard is about to put his time into a new all-female rock trio (played by Cara Delevigne, Ashley Benson, and Dylan Gelula), the chaos festers and grows.

Anyone who’s seen an Alex Ross Perry film will go in knowing that you don’t expect to like many, if any, of his characters. This is by design, but Becky comes close to being the least likable yet. But this is because of the truly terrific commanding performance by Elizabeth Moss, who gives everything she has into this role, almost like a crazy mix between Courtney Love and Heath Ledger’s Joker. All the performances are there, but it’s Deyn and Rankin who make the most striking impression as the bandmates are stuck in the rut of coming to blows with her but trying to find a way to stick it out.

The way the scenes are broken into longstanding vignettes allows the performances to really shine and gives it all a sense of reality almost to the point where it feels like you’re watching a rock documentary unfold in front of you. If there’s a fault to be had it’s that this storytelling device maybe stretches things a bit too long and the 5th act almost feels unnecessary as the previous, more subtle and thoughtful act seemed to wrap things up in a fitting fashion.

Her Smell‘s gravitational pull is the award-worthy turn from Moss who is a force to be reckoned with, absolutely commanding every second that she is on screen. Her partnership with Perry is one that we hope to see more of, especially considering how Perry continues to grow as an artist with a distinct voice that continues to grow with every new release.

Rating: 7.6/10

Her Smell premiered at the 2018 New York Film Festival with two screenings on September 29th and 30th.