Exit Poll: Falling Down (and Down Again) Into the Drunken Spiral of ‘Her Smell’

Published April 16, 2019

It reads like an offhand joke tossed around at a Metrograph fête: What do you get when you make a film about a spiraling riot grrrl punk rocker played by a celebrated Hollywood actress, fronting a backing band played by models in Day-glo hair (Cara Delevingne, is that you?), with a soundtrack that includes a Bryan Adams cover and feedback loop, directed by the ever-perplexing Alex Ross Perry? The punchline would be Her Smell, Perry’s latest feature-length entry that chronicles the steady, bourbon-induced downfall of a grunge powerhouse named Becky Something, the front-woman of Something She, played arrestingly by Elisabeth Moss. Much like Becky’s own attempts to sing onstage without collapsing, the film demands a steady ounce of effort from its viewers. Consisting of five continuous acts, the first of which runs for 20-plus minutes, Her Smell chronicles the shitstorm that Becky has whipped up for those around her in a stream of dizzying tracking shots. Colors blur, speech slurs. The continuous romp was too much for a few geriatrics in the audience at my Sunday afternoon viewing at IFC, who abruptly walked out of the theater just 20 minutes into the film. They were presumably in attendance in the hope that Moss’s character would be a descendant of her Peggy Olsen on Mad Men — at once meek and strong, an undeniable crowd favorite. Instead, they got Something (else?), rotten and oozing wreckage at the seams. It’s only understandable that in a film that is an ode to the dwindling patience of those in Becky’s orbit (including the father of her child and her fellow give-no-fucks bandmates), some audience members — who owe her and Perry virtually nothing aside from a cinephile’s requisite benefit of the doubt — would lose their patience, too. But sticking through the madness, as is often the case, has its payoffs. Moss is a marvel as Becky, with a devilish glare beneath eyelids that sparkle like a blurry skyline on a night of coke-addled hysteria. With meltdown after meltdown, I felt a sort of kinship with her, a woman bursting with undirected passion, with a beat-up guitar and the moxie to throw it across the stage after each performance. She embodies a particular Gen X sensibility that can only be described as the next of kin of Courtney Love, complete with her dissonant vocal fry, expletive-littered jargon, and a cackling, child-like compulsion for the occult. Amidst the noise and the bloody noses and the squealing amp, Becky’s eventual quiet redemption feels like a jubilee. When the credits roll with a guitar lick and a series of faux album covers, you may even feel like you’ve had a good time.