Alex Ross Perry‘s Her Smell is an audience-test movie — a kind of experiment to see how much in the way of undisciplined, pull-out-the-stops abuse viewers are willing to sit through.
The tools of this abuse are wielded by Perry and star Elizabeth Moss, who gets to snarl and smile demonically and be all manic-crazy obnoxious as Becky Something, an edgy, drug-fueled grunge rocker (pic is set in the ’90s) who wears too much eye makeup and suggestively flicks her tongue and could stand to lose a few pounds. Five minutes with crazy Becky and you’re immediately plotting your escape. She’s Medusa-woman, lemme outta here, can’t do this…aagghh!
Escaping wasn’t an actual option, of course, as I sitting in a New York Film Festival press screening at the Walter Reade theatre, surrounded by dozens of critics. If I’d bolted I would have never heard the end of it so I stuck it out like a man, but good God almighty.
There’s one tolerable moment in the last third. I’m reluctant to use the term “third act” as there’s no story in Her Smell, much less anything resembling story tension, although there are five chapters or sections, each announced by snippets of 1.37:1 footage. The moment I’m speaking of shows a sober Becky sitting down at the piano and gently singing Bryan Adam‘s “Heaven” to her toddler daughter. Hollywood Elsewhere is very grateful to Perry for at least offering this small slice of comfort pie. Peons like myself (i.e., viewers who are unable to enjoy a film teeming with jabbering, wall-to-wall, motor-mouthed anxiety) need this kind of thing from time to time.
85% to 90% of Her Smell is about enduring Becky’s rash, needling, abrasive behavior toward her bandmates (Agyness Deyn, Gayle Rankin), a trio of up-and-coming Seattle chick musicians (Cara Delevigne, Dylan Gelula, Ashley Benson), her ex-husband (dull-as-dishwater Dan Stevens), the record-label owner (Eric Stoltz, 56 during filming and eyeballing the big six-oh) and some kind of manager-agent character (Virginia Madsen, who was born only 20 days before Stoltz). They all regard Becky with the same expression, a non-verbal channelling of “oh, God…she’s gone over the edge…what can be done?” and so on.
To sum up, Her Smell is Perry punishment. And an indulgent, highly undisciplined, 135-minute exercise in flamboyant behavior-acting for Moss. I will never, ever see it again.