“Your love helps me breathe.”
Two years after Golden Exits premiered at Sundance, Alex Ross Perry is back with his latest dramatic endeavour in the form of an electrifying behind the scenes style insight to a punk rock band losing their way. Her Smell follows Becky (Elizabeth Moss) and her band Something She in five separate vignettes that detail the inner turmoil of Becky and her bandmates as the pressure soaked claws of fame pull them apart. From the opening number that not only solidifies Moss’ clearly Courtney Love inspired performance with pulsating life, it also pulls us literally backstage with the whiplash of post gig blues. From a crowd of fans to a crowd of overwhelming anxiety, Her Smell doesn’t let go of you till the song and dance is properly over.
As the band biopic or musical genre has seen a clear surge of popularity in the last couple of years, I’m glad to report that Perry has given the genre an enlivening new addition. Using a chapter style framing device is not reinventing the wheel but Perry uses it with such ease and confidence that Her Smell feels like a visual discography of era’s evolving before your eyes. Bands naturally change their aesthetic, style and approach as a reaction to their last release, personal life or to seek new creative landscapes. Bearing that in mind, as soon we meet Something She, their musical expression already feels like a grasp to please their loyal fans; deep cuts are encores and not setlist staples.
It’s evident that Ross himself has a passion for the era he’s pulling from and exploring the effects of trying to keep a band afloat once the tide has changed.
What if you were part of a generation that defined a sound for thousands but the rest of the band started to leave you behind? Becky and her band feel like they are plucked right out of the grunge explosion and have enjoyed massive initial success as Perry illustrates through home video footage of Something She revelling in their explosion of life changing events.
Alongside Becky, are a host of supporting characters from the members of Something She, Becky’s ex-husband or a new band, Akergirls, rising through the ranks as a mirror to what could be if Becky corrected her path. Dan Stevens, Gayle Rankin and Agyness Deyn are particularly remarkable in their interactions with Becky as they try to stop the world around them from falling apart. Ultimately, enough is enough and cooler heads fail to prevail, especially in the case of her bandmates.
I cannot stress enough how much I adored Perry’s approach to a brutally emotional mix of nostalgia and regret. Becky is very much the focal point of Her Smell, as each chapter centers around different moments of personal downfall, be that completely derailing a recording session or abusing the last people willing to put up with her selfishness. Each chapter is an album in itself ( E.G the solid debut, the lacklustre contracted effort and the return to form). Moss unreservedly gives herself to this role in what is honestly my favourite work from her yet as she is stunningly honest and potent in her portrayal of a soul so unimaginably deluded.
Her Smell is an undoubted triumph, standing as one of the year’s best releases by a long shot. As a drama it’s already a winner, but as a weaving exploration of a band’s shelf to keep the show going, Ross has crafted an unmissable journey. Sporting a blisteringly soulful soundtrack with energy bleeding between the grooves and staggeringly raw observations of soured success, it would be a disservice to let this one go in one ear and out the other.
My Rating: ★★★★½
Written + Directed by: Alex Ross Perry
Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Cara Delevingne, Dan Stevens, Agyness Deyn, Gayle Rankin