September 28, 2020

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Her Smell travels a downward spiral

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/8/2019 (424 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

These days, Elisabeth Moss is best known for her work as the heroine of The Handmaid’s Tale, in the role of a modern woman obliged to suffer silently at the hands of the radically regressive male power structure that’s taken over America.

So one can see the appeal for Moss of diving into the role of Becky Something in Her Smell. Becky is a ’90s rock star — presumably inspired by Courtney Love — whose only filters are on the cigarettes she smokes too compulsively. In the throes of success as a recording artist, Becky is loud, self-indulgent, creative and narcissistic. She’s also a bit of a monster to the people who support her.

Writer-director Alex Ross Perry (Listen Up Philip) plunks us into Becky’s world in mid-downward spiral. Perry shoots the backstage chaos of Becky’s world in close-quarters-intimacy with handheld cameras. Backed up by a pair of dubious holy men tasked with clearing the Becky perimeter of negative energy, the emboldened Becky recklessly alienates by turns Danny (Dan Stevens), her ex-partner and the father of her toddler; her manager (Eric Stoltz); and her long-suffering bandmates (Agyness Deyn and Gayle Rankin).

It is obvious to anyone who has ever watched a celebrity biopic, Becky is heading for a fall. What’s unusual about this film is that it tosses out the conventional structure of such films. Stretched out over five acts, we bear witness to Becky’s self-destruction over the first three. Not content to take down her own band, Becky also brings down another riot-grrrl trio (headed by Cara Delevigne) that stumbles into her orbit.

DONALD STAHL / GUNPOWDER & SKY</p><p>Elisabeth Moss plays a ’90s-inspired rock star, Becky Something, in Her Smell.</p>


Elisabeth Moss plays a ’90s-inspired rock star, Becky Something, in Her Smell.

Notwithstanding Moss’s willingness to explore her character’s bottomless depths, this is, frankly, tiresome stuff.

While it’s really impressive to watch Moss chew up the backstage scenery, the film succeeds rather too well in making Becky an irredeemable character, even when the notion of redemption becomes a possibility by the fourth act.

Other issues sabotage the film: the music isn’t especially good. And what’s with that title?

Assuming Courtney Love was the template, Her Smell feels like a dead end. If Perry had modelled his film after someone along the lines of Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill — who some would call a smarter, more articulate heroine — maybe he could have had something. Twitter: @FreepKing

DONALD STAHL / GUNPOWDER & SKY</p><p>Elisabeth Moss </p>


Elisabeth Moss

Randall King

Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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