Monday, November 16, 2020

Marlboros and Sweat, Perhaps?

Film: Her Smell
Format: DVD from Cherry Valley Public Library through interlibrary loan on the new portable.

There are actors who define generations of film. Meryl Streep is clearly one of those actors. I think the same will be said of Saoirse Ronan, but it’s also increasingly something that I think needs to be said of Elisabeth Moss. Best known for her role in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Moss has been putting together a string of performances that demonstrate just how good she is in just about any role she’s handed. I expect her to be nominated for an Oscar in 2020, either for The Invisible Man or for Shirley, but we really should have been talking about her a couple of years ago in Her Smell.

Her Smell is an episodic story about a punk rock star with the stage name of Becky Something (Moss), one of the truly great punk names ever created, along the lines of Jello Biafra, Cherry Vanilla, and John Doe. Becky’s band Something She is formative for punk, and specifically for women-driven punk. Along with bandmates Ali van der Wolff (Gayle Rankin) and Marielle Hell (Agyness Deyn), Something She has become a force in the music world. But, as the film starts, the entire enterprise is starting to break down.

The first section of the film concerns a Something She show where a lot of loose threads from Becky’s life come together. First, her ex husband Danny (Dan Stevens) has arrived, with their young child Tama in tow. Also arriving is Zelda E. Zekiel (Amber Heard), Becky’s original mentor-turned-enemy. Also on the scene is Something She’s manager Howard Goodman (Eric Stoltz). As it happens, Howard is also Zelda’s manager, and is bringing in a new trio called Akergirls, made up of Crassy Cassie (Cara Delevingne), Roxie Rotten (Ashley Benson), and Dottie O.Z. (Dylan Gelula). His hope is that Becky can bury the hatchet with Zelda and a tour can be formed. However, Becky has gone far beyond the bend of rationality. Influenced by a sort of shaman named Ya-ema (Eka Darville) and addled by a variety of substances, Becky’s life and career spins out of control.

The next two episodes are simply more of this deep dive into self-destruction and mania, as Becky destroys the latest recording session for Something She, and taking up the recording time for Akergirls. She alienates both Ali and Marielle before sliding deeper into mania. The third episode has Something She opening for Akergirls, Becky having taken the band down with her and continuing the ruinous slide by showing up two hours late. In the fourth and fifth vignettes, we get something akin to a redemptive arc, or at least as redemptive as we’re going to get for Becky Something.

While there’s plenty to talk about when it comes to Her Smell, the entire focus of the movie is and should be Elisabeth Moss. We’ll get to that in just a second. While I enjoyed the performance of much of the cast (Agyness Deyn in particular), I want to take a minute and talk about Eric Stoltz. Stoltz is an underrated actor. He’s almost always better than I think he’s going to be, and he’s frequently the best part of the scenes he’s in. He’s perfectly cast in this role.

But this is Moss’s film from opening moment to the final credits. If Becky Something was entirely a creation of Moss in the moment, spinning increasingly crazed and crazy ideas and spiritual woo and conspiracy theories while talking at a nonstop clip and leaping from topic to topic, it would be impressive enough. However, evidently, this is a performance that is entirely scripted, making it far more impressive. Most of the five sections feel like natural, uncut performances, something done as single takes, making Moss that much more astonishing in the role.

I’m not going to pull any punches here--Her Smell is not an easy film to sit through. It’s a slow-motion train wreck that takes 136 minutes to finally end. We are watching someone self-destruct in real time and over time, and it feels completely real, like this is what it would look like and feel like to see this happen. Allegedly, Axl Rose was more or less the template for Becky Something, but it feels impossible to look at this and not think about Courtney Love.

It’s not easy for me to say I enjoyed Her Smell (and yes, I realize just how weird that sentence sounds out of context). It’s not a movie that is enjoyed. It is, however, a movie that demands to be seen.

Why to watch Her Smell: Elisabeth Moss establishes herself as one of the most vital actors working.
Why not to watch: The first 60% is damned unpleasant.


  1. I have this film on my DVR and I'm hoping to watch it during the rest of the month (depending on time and energy due the fact that I have a 19-month old nephew who likes to bite me). Elisabeth Moss is becoming an incredible actress although I don't know if I'd want Amber Turd as my mentor. What kind of shit would she teach me? How to take a shit on my spouse's bed and make up all sorts of bullshit?

    1. Yeah, I'm getting really tired of seeing Amber Heard in anything. I'm not huge on cancel culture, but if we're going to dump people for being shitty in real life, there's no reason for her to keep getting work.

  2. Never heard of this, but I am here for more Elisabeth Moss. She's been fantastic in everything I've seen her in.

    1. It's a hard sit, but if you're already a fan of Moss, you'll be more of a fan at the end.