Her Smell, stars Elisabeth Moss as Becky Something, the self destructive, drug addict front-woman for a all female grunge-rock trio. Accompanied by her bassist, Marielle Hell (Agyness Deyn), and drummer, Ali (Gayle Rankin), Becky is a ticking time-bomb and her band-mates, manager, Howard Goodman (Eric Stoltz), and family struggle to keep Becky from destroying herself and everyone else around her.
Usually films about bands start at the beginning when the band is forming, impressionable, naive, or burgeoning. Her Smell tosses that aside and throws the audience right in to the brink of the downfall of the group. The film unfolds more like a play. With five or six intense scenes, more like independent acts on their own. Each scene spiraling more and more into mayhem as the band craters under Becky’s vitriolic criticism and explosive behavior.
It’s really the sound editing that gives Her Smell the high-kick. With starburst blurred light effects and dialogue delivered with an anxious urgency, Her Smell reminded me of Punch-Drunk Love to that extent. The music is punchy as well. Some original songs played in entirety instead of snippets and a startlingly beautiful cover, single take shot of Becky at the piano, dedicated next to her daughter, playing “Heaven” by Bryan Adams.
Director/writer Alex Ross Perry and Elisabeth Moss have worked on a couple of other projects together (Listen Up Philip/Queen of Earth) and Perry has found a way to pull out a very raw and fully committed character from Elisabeth Moss. With a manic smile and twinkle of vacancy in her eye, we watch as Becky escalates into a complete breakdown over time all from the bands greenroom. To me, Perry intentionally left Becky’s mental instability open to interpretation. At times, she seems almost dissociated or struggling with mental illness (delusional and paranoid) coupled with the drug & alcohol abuse. Nobody ever addresses the mental illness in the film, but instead, are almost enslaved to Becky out of loyalty or financial burdens. We get to see the fall and rise of a drug addict and although it definitely caries on and could benefit from some earlier edits, Her Smell turns out to be a pretty honest portrayal of dealing with someone who is loved, yet self sabotaging and volatile.