Her Smell

Review by Hannah Woodhead @goodjobliz

Directed by

Alex Ross Perry

Starring

Cara Delevingne Dan Stevens Elisabeth Moss

Anticipation.

Have we reached peak destructive musician movie yet?

Enjoyment.

Nope! Moss and Perry are a dream team.

In Retrospect.

Chaotic, compelling and intimate.

Elisabeth Moss is a punk-rock musician spinning out of control in Alex Ross Perry's latest.

In the past year alone the likes of A Star Is Born, Vox Lux and Wild Rose have all grappled with the subject of young female musicians who struggle with the demons that come with success. This fascination is long-standing not only in Hollywood, but in pop culture too, and so often it ends in tragedy. A year after its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, Alex Ross Perry’s manic portrait of a girl on fire finally joins the ranks, and it’s one of the best depictions of free-falling creative energy in recent memory.

Elisabeth Moss, playing punk-rock whirlwind Becky Something, exudes a chaotic energy that’s radically different from any of her previous roles. In the film’s opening act she performs The Only Ones’ ‘Another Girl Another Planet’ before pinballing around backstage, talking a mile a minute and lashing out at anyone who stands in the way of her and self-destruction. Having successfully alienated her husband Danny (Dan Stevens) and young daughter, Becky’s reckless nature undermines her talent and sees her at odds with her bandmates Marielle and Ali (Agyness Deyn and Gayle Rankin) while her manager Howard (Eric Stoltz) quietly despairs.

Between grotty backstages and recording booths, to a self-imposed rural exile, Moss is unquestionably the film’s heart and soul. In a just world, her performance would have received much more fanfare when the film was released in the US earlier this year. Becky is unreliable, uncooperative and often unsympathetic, flitting from blistering highs to unbearable lows on a moment’s notice, and Moss throws herself into the role of desperate, difficult genius. Mileage may vary based on how odious you find the difficult leading lady, but Moss’ performance is one of the most compelling of the year.

Similarly, Agyness Deyn is remarkable as Marielle, Becky’s bandmate, sometime co-conspirator, and sometime mortal enemy. The chemistry between the ensemble cast – which also features Cara Delevigne as a young punk pretender to the crown and Amber Heard as Becky’s frenemy, Zelda Fitzgerald – feels so natural it’s easy to forget it’s fiction and not a scuzzy, warts-and-all documentary, accentuated by video snapshots of the band at the height of its stardom, and full of the hope of spring.

So many films have told of destructive male geniuses, and it’s refreshing to see a woman granted the space to be more than a figure of tragedy. An infinitely frustrating but unquestionably compelling presence, Becky is in control of her own destiny and her own downfall, and the film rejects all notions about the music industry being a place of unending excess and glamour. Instead, Her Smell confronts the loneliness and complexity of fame without straying into the territory of self-pity, less concerned with preaching and more with posterity.

It’s a crying shame the film will only receive a VOD release in the UK, as it deserves to be watched in the lonely dark confines of a cinema, where Keegan DeWitt’s scratchy electric score echoes in your ears and Sean Price Williams’ fluid camerawork feels even more immersive. Ross Perry continues to be a leading light of indie filmmaking – so why is it so damn hard to see his movies?

Published 18 Sep 2019

Tags: Agyness Deyn Alex Ross Perry Cara Delevingne Dan Stevens Elisabeth Moss

Anticipation.

Have we reached peak destructive musician movie yet?

Enjoyment.

Nope! Moss and Perry are a dream team.

In Retrospect.

Chaotic, compelling and intimate.

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