During a pivotal moment in Alex Ross Perry’s latest film, we see Elisabeth Moss’ riot grrl singer Becky Something crawling onto a stage, her face bloodied and screaming at the crowd before breaking into hysterics in a coked-up furore in one of the many instances of unbelievable intensity this film has to offer. Her Smell is the third collaboration between Perry and Moss and is an unwaveringly singular and uncomfortably intimate portrayal of a rockstar, told behind the scenes as she spirals further into addiction and pushes those closest to her away. Her Smell opened in Toronto Film Festival to generous praise from critics, and its clear to see why after a packed showing in Glasgow Film Festival.
Her Smell plays more like a horror film than your conventional biopic, there’s a permeance of dread flooding the dimly lit corridors and changing rooms as Becky ensnares anyone who crosses her. It’s a departure for the star, who usually plays more amiable protagonists, but a role she excels within. Each confrontation feels like a further insight into the questionable morals of superstardom as Becky’s talent gives way to her viscous narcissism, made worse by the arrival of new favourites in the scene The Akergirls. Although the story focuses predominantly upon Becky, there is some nice work done by Perry to give implicit details on each of the supporting cast members. Including Danny, formerly Dirty Dan, (Dan Stevens) who is father to Becky’s child, her long-suffering manager Howard (Eric Stoltz), and band members Marielle Hell (Agyness Deyn) and Ali van der Wolff (Gayle Rankin). Their relationship to Becky becoming more nuanced through each encounter, whether exasperated, or sympathetic there’s enough justification to make it feel realistic. This can’t be said for Cara Delevigne and Amber Heard’s characters however, who have interesting premises that are sadly left underdeveloped.
This is mildly confusing given that the film has a long runtime for what it is, coming in at just over two hours, and the scene near the beginning of the second act in the band’s recording studio does begin to wear thin long before its over. This is thankfully quite easily forgiven by the execution of the film’s more vibrant scenes. The camera deftly follows Something on her rampages, which when paired with a repeating discordant score of percussion and stabbing synthesisers is extremely unsettling. And in a few of the film’s rare violent moments, you really wonder how far Perry will be willing to go.
The film isn’t all doom centric however, there are a few live performances from Moss including a cover of The Only Ones’ Another Girl, Another Planet which are exceptional, and nicely illustrate why Becky Something and her band Something She are so adored publicly. The final third also takes a more optimistic approach after she’s gone through recovery, and whilst its interesting to see the previous relationships in her new, sober, light it can’t help but falter in the wake of the preceding chaos. There are a few nice scenes, including an inversion of the previously mentioned score motif, but it all unfortunately builds to a climax belonging in a film far sweeter than Her Smell.
This is a very good spin on the rock biopic genre, but it’s kept from perfection by some baggy scenes and an anticlimactic ending. Her Smell is still worth watching primarily due to Moss’ visceral performance as Becky Something, but also its truly individualistic take on addiction and wholly corrupting fame.