Writer and director Alex Ross Perry charts a painful but moving course through murky rockstar waters in Her Smell, a run-down monument to punk rock politics, inter-band strife and the challenging fallout found at the other side of fame and fortune.
Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men, The Handmaid's Tale) is Becky Something, the leader of the once-glorious punk rock trio Something She. Once upon a time, the self-described "girl band" went gold, sold out stadiums, graced magazine covers and made or broke the careers of the generations that followed. But when we join them at the tail end of a massive tour, burnout, misplaced pride and drug abuse have taken their toll and have driven Becky to the brink of madness. Through a series of extended vignettes and camcorder throwbacks to the better days, we watch Becky frantically abuse bandmates both physically and emotionally, ruin studio sessions for younger musicians, trash her mother, fight her ex and nearly break her infant daughter's neck. Years on the road have broken her, and no amount of understanding from her inner circle—bassist Marielle Hell (Agyness Deyn) and drummer Ali van der Wolf (Gayle Rankin)—can help fix it.
Moss disappears completely into the role, channeling a mix of once-beloved punk rock icon clinging to the faded last scraps of glory and empty shell of a woman looking to heal self-inflicted wounds any place other than inward. Her Smell is ultimately quiet but jarring; one uncomfortable encounter after another that bring us to the edge of tears time and time again but, like Marielle Hell says: Becky might have been bad, yet we never stop loving her. We get it, in fact—she's terrified and not herself: The void once filled with screaming crowds and mega-hit albums doesn't seem to fill the same way anymore, but it's all she knows and it's how she's trapped herself. Rock bottom might not even be low enough.
Later scenes shine a light on redemption and chosen family, even if a peripheral band that worships at Becky's feet feels underused. Ditto for Eric Stoltz as the head of Becky's label, Amber Heard as a musical frenemy and Dan Stevens as the ex trying to get on with his life. We understand why they're there, we just don't really get a sense of them outside of how they revolve around Becky. Deyn and Rankin are fantastic together, however, a semi-strong unit formed in a survival response to Becky's violent actions and teetering on the brink themselves. Moss, meanwhile, is at her very best in the aftermath, when she once again tries to become a human person.
+Moss is brilliant; the music
-Some dialogue feels goofy; nauseating at times
Directed by Perry
With Moss, Deyn, Rankin, Stoltz and Stevens