What the heck did I just watch? That was my feeling as I left the cinema after wasting over two hours of my life watching Her Smell. Actually, that’s not true. I wanted to use much harsher, more colorful and expressive language but wasn’t sure the brass would like that. I didn’t think it was possible to make a more dragged out movie than S. Craig Zalher’s Dragged Across Concrete. But I think writer/director Alex Ross Perry (Golden Exits, Queen of Earth) read my review for that film and said “here hold my beer”. This story about a self-destructive punk rocker on the downward spiral of her career had me so agitated and embarrassed for the cast that I was tempted to walk out of the cinema. The title was right: what a stinker of a movie.
This is the part of my review where I’d usually talk a little bit about the story or plot, but there’s so little of either I’m struggling as there’s so little to actually talk about, so I’ll keep my synopsis short – unlike the film’s bloated runtime. Her Smell consists of a handful of scenes set in a handful of locations where we’ve got Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss), lead singer of the all-girl punk band Something She, ranting and raving while being wasted. That’s mostly it.
Her poor bandmates, including bassist, Marielle Hell (Agyness Deyn) and drummer, Ali van der Wolff (Gayle Rankin), manager Howard Goodman (Eric Stoltz), ex-husband Danny (Dan Stevens) and mother Ania Adamcyzk (Virginia Madsen) are generally on the receiving end of these rants. When they’re not arguing with Becky they’re all just talking and talking and talking about Becky or their concern for Becky’s career whenever she’s not in the scene. I just saved you 2 hrs and 14 mins. You’re welcome.
What added to my agitation was my embarrassment for the actors. For the most part the performances weren’t great due to Perry’s awful script so I can somewhat forgive the actors. However, Elisabeth Moss is terribly cast as Becky Something and was the performance that stood out as being particularly woeful. Seeing as she’s the lead that’s not a good thing. Her attempt at playing punk and trying to be shocking or eccentric quickly turned to farce and desperation. I read her Becky Something was inspired by Guns ‘N Roses’ Axl Rose, but her portrayal felt more like an over-the-top attempt at Courtney Love and it wasn’t ever that convincing.
The only saving grace to Moss’ performance happens after her character sobers up many years later and she convincingly plays a woman who has lost everything and regrets the many mistakes she’s made in her life. This was a very small, very brief moment when I truly felt something for her character. But only for a moment. This brief goodwill quickly returns to farce again when Becky reunites with her bandmates for one more show and the melodrama returns.
Writer & director Alex Ross Perry had a solid premise that could have been interesting and fun. Stories about self-destructive artists generally makes for good viewing because these eccentric personalities have done something worth putting on the big screen; we normals want to see the spectacle and experience (not to mention the tragedy) of the entertainment industry behind the scenes. And, to be honest, these films usually focus so much on male musicians that it would have been great to focus on a girl punk band for once. Sadly, get past the first ten minutes of Her Smell and it becomes apparent there’s no substance here. Instead, we’re subjected to drivel masked as dialogue usually accompanied by shaky camerawork – let me rephrase – excessive shaky camerawork – and a grating soundscape meant to build tension but just ended up being downright annoying.
I’m not really sure what they were trying to achieve with this movie, other than demonstrating what we already knew: substance abuse is bad. Also, the potential to focus on a perils facing a female band – which is something we rarely see in films like this – is wasted as Moss’ troubled rocker is reduced to little more than unfocused emotional outbursts. She seems terribly miscast as the lead rocker, and I’m not sure you can fix that in editing. With a lack of relatable characters and story warranting such a long runtime She Smells fails to deliver any kind of entertainment, either the cautionary or exploitative kind. As of this writing it’s now the worst movie I’ve seen in 2019…so far.