TIFF 2018: Her Smell

Elisabeth Moss in Her Smell. Courtesy of TIFF.

Actress Elisabeth Moss delivers what may be among her finest performances as alcoholic musician Becky Something in Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell.

Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss) made it big out of the 90s punk rock scene.  Her band, Something She, isn’t anywhere near the glory that they used to be.  The trio, including drummer Ali van der Wolff (Gayle Rankin) and guitarist Mari (Agyness Deyn), can no longer sell out arenas so they stick with more intimate venues.  Becky’s alcoholism isn’t helping her at all.  She’s become a bad mother as a result.  The other members of the band are tired of her antics.  Those around Becky are the ones suffering the most, whether it’s her ex, Danny (Dan Stevens) or her mother (Virginia Madsen).  Because of Becky’s unhinged behavior, Danny is forced to raise their daughter.

The breaking point comes during a recording session and it soon becomes apparent that enough is enough.  It had been some nine months with no album in sight.  The frustration shows on the face of Paragon Records executive Howard (Eric Stoltz).  Howard can’t keep affording to spend money on an album that–let’s face it-won’t ever be recorded.  What does he do but turn to The Akergirls (Cara Delevingne, Ashley Benson, Dylan Gelula) as the band that Paragon Records needs to bring money into their coffers.

The film soon takes a jump into the future–timed to the concert celebrating Paragon Records’ 20th anniversary.  It’s their first performance together in quite some time.  Becky realized that she needed to change.  She takes a break from the spotlight while battling to get sober and become a better person.

Moss is marvelous as this punker is forced to change it up as life is a figment of what it used to be.  She puts everything into this performance.  If it’s not the best of her career, it’s really high up there.  Becky’s behavior is something that’s routinely celebrated when men do it but not so much when women do the same.

Credit to writer-director Alex Ross Perry for using Her Smell as a way to explore some interesting questions.  The first of which is what happens to musicians when the fame they love isn’t what it used to be?  Becky is clearly fictional but one can’t help but wonder just how similar musicians are in real life.  What do they do when their fame soon fades from existence?

Keegan DeWitt continues to impress with the versatility of his musical work.  The film’s opening alone contains some of the best scoring to be heard this year.  DeWitt only provides the score while Alicia Bognanno and Anika Pyle provide the film’s original songs.  The songs feel as if they come from the punk rock era.

One of the biggest problems that I found with Her Smell is the running time.  Maybe it’s because of the five-act structure but the film could certainly have been a bit shorter.

A career-best performance from Elisabeth Moss helps to propel Her Smell as Alex Ross Perry seeks to explore what happens when stars begin to lose their fame.

CAST:  Elisabeth Moss, Cara Delevingne, Dan Stevens, Agyness Deyn, Gayle Rankin, Ashley Benson, Dylan Gelula, with Virginia Madsen, with Eric Stoltz and Amber Heard

Her Smell held its world premiere during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival in the Platform program. Grade: 3.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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