Saturday, May 4, 2019

Scent of a Woman

Movies: Her Smell

Alex Ross Perry's Her Smell goes from zero to one hundred in the first act and never takes its foot off the gas pedal. It's an intense, nervy film that follows the downfall of a riot grrrl rock goddess in the vein of Courtney Love and her climb back to redemption.

Elisabeth Moss, in a vanity-free and nakedly vulnerable performance, plays Becky Something, front woman to a 90s riot grrrl style punk band Something She. Becky's atrocious behavior--canceling tours, getting blackout drunk backstage--has reduced the once enormously popular band to playing clubs when they used to sell out theaters. Despite Becky's narcissistic behavior, bandmates Ali van der Wolff (Gayle Rankin) and Marielle Hell (Agnyess Deyn) have stuck by her side even though their manager, Howard (Eric Stoltz), is about to walk away after Becky's antics have nearly bankrupted his company.

Unwillingly along for the ride into Becky's descent into hell is her ex-husband, Dirtbag Dan (Dan Stevens) who is essentially raising his and Becky's young daughter, Tama, by himself. Becky's mom, Ania (Virginia Madsen,) also makes appearances, saddened--though not shocked--at her once sweet daughter's self-destruction.

Perry stages the 2 hour and 14 minute film over five scenes of about 25 minutes each, giving the film a very theatrical feel. It's effective--you get to know the characters right away and see what they're all about. Becky is the epicenter of a shitstorm of diva behavior and abuse, Marielle is the more enabling band member, and Ali is the band member who most aggressively pushes back (only to get dragged back in). The majority of the people in Becky's life are also financially dependent on her in some way or another which prevents many of them from writing Becky off and walking out of her life. They also, against all good sense, love her.

Her Smell (a title which I actually like, although critics have indicated they think it...stinks) is a story about addiction and how an addict--especially one with money and power, in Becky's case--can be a black hole to those around her, sucking up time, money, energy, emotions, and resources.

Her Smell, it must be said, shows how addiction affects rich, attractive, white people. Even after the worst of it, Becky still has a home, has access to her daughter, has friends who come to forgive her, and avoids prison (though she does not avoid lawsuits). Her Smell is *incredibly* white. All the main characters are white, with a bodyguard and a shaman (yup) as the only characters of color. While this might make a certain sense given the genre of music and time period, it was very notable. I mean, hell, the main character's name is fucking Becky. It's for sure a film about white privilege whether the director intended it to be or not.

It is nice to see a movie starring nearly all women that really isn't about femininity. Certainly, a viewer could read "mean girl" behavior into it, or see Becky as a "bad mother", but the film doesn't really make Becky's femaleness the center of things, but rather her addiction and her narcissism. It's refreshing to see a woman behave badly and not be killed or punished for it (but again, this is a white, attractive woman, so she already has a better shot than most). There's something thrilling and voyeuristic about the film, which also feels like a low-key horror movie with an unnerving soundtrack and a volatile main character.

I enjoyed Her Smell. It's not a great movie, but it definitely gets under your skin. Moss does a stunning job playing a woman you can't fucking stand but somehow still care about. And although her redemption does come off as a bit tidy, there's still enough uncertainty at the end of whether she'll be able to stay clean and keep her promises--or relapse into a monster once again--to leave the audience feel shaken.

Grade: B+

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