The words Her Smell on a poster with the image of Elisabeth Moss makes you wonder: What could she smell like? The answer is most definitely Scientology, but luckily that fact doesn’t stick too long because Alex Ross Perry’s latest film isn’t named after the sense, but a fictional concert venue. If Moss’s Becky Something had to tickle our olfactory nerve, though, it would smell like cigarette smoke, alcohol-soaked breath, vomit, and most of all, selfishness—she reeks of it. Her Smell is an intimate look at the inner workings of a fictional rockstar, whose mania is dizzying and proves difficult to dissect.
The filmopens with an intimate home video of girl group Something She celebrating its first magazine cover. These glimpses into the band’s success, and the sisterhood shared between Becky, Mari (Agyness Deyn) and Ali (Gayle Rankin), are meshed into the band’s eventual decline and breakup. In typical fashion, the film focuses on the highest highs and the lowest lows of a rock band whose members find themselves in the middle of a cancelled European tour and an EP on the rocks. The downward spiral of fame is encapsulated in Moss’s manic, dark energy.
The audience is given a glimpse of Becky Something behind all the noise and flashing lights, and what we see is borderline horror. Along with being a rockstar, she’s a mother with absolutely no regard for her toddler’s well being and makes it clear that she would sacrifice her child to keep her fame intact. She’s into some strange Wiccan rituals too and it’s no stretch to say that she’s probably possessed by demons (literally or figuratively). She’s terrifying, and it makes you wonder what she sees when she looks at herself in the mirror.
“You’re a mess,” her ex-boyfriend, Danny (Dan Stevens), tells her. And she truly is. Her Smell focuses almost exclusively on this out of control character, with Moss delivering one of the best performances of the year. It’s a character piece, the camera keeping Becky in frame even when other characters are talking. And through this, the dynamic between herself and the rest of the film’s characters really takes shape and you notice that everyone around her likes to keep their distance, whether it’s her bandmates, manager, or even her mother. Dressing rooms are filled with awkward silences as Becky waves and wales on using phrases that are lyrically genius, but at the same time, don’t make sense. She’s her own being and Moss truly lives in her skin. And it doesn’t matter that she isn’t the best singer; there’s a heartbroken sound to her music. A vulnerability that is hidden underneath selfishness and egotism.
“I took care of this band while you took care of yourself,” drummer Ali tells her. And for the first half of the film that’s all we see from Becky; all take and no give. When she meets another female rock group, a reflection of Becky and co in their prime, she’s quick to pounce. It’s fitting, as Crassie Cassie (played by Cara Delevigne) dons a Something She band tee. Becky thinks that incorporating Crassie Cassie, along with Roxie Rotten (Ashley Benson) and Dottie O.Z. (Dylan Gelula), into her sound will make her come alive again. But her toxicity latches onto them in an endless cycle of destruction that sounds like something out of gossip magazines and rock star tell-alls.
What really makes the film is Keegan DeWitt’s sound design. Not so much so in Something She’s performances, but the music used in the background as we watch Becky. It’s a harsh mixture that’s anxiety-inducing, reminiscent of the electronic score of an action thriller. It’s tense and emphasizes Becky’s insanity until she loses it all and we are left with nothing but a silence that’s almost deafening. Her Smell may linger for far too long, and fail to provide us with many reasons to care about its protagonist, but you’ll find it impossible to look away.
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