HER SMELL (2019)

Review by LL Soares

Some movies, you just take it for granted, should be a great time. I’m a big fan of actress Elizabeth Moss. You might know her from the TV shows THE WEST WING, where she played Zoey Bartlet from 1999-2006; MAD MEN, where she played Peggy Olson from 2007 – 2015; and THE HANDMAID’S TALE, which she is currently starring in AS Offred/June. She’s also a movie star, having appeared in movies like Jordon Peele’s US (2019), HIGH-RISE (2015), GET HIM TO THE GREEK (2010), and the fascinating THE ONE I LOVE (2014). She’s the kind of actress who leaves a big impression, and it’s easy to believe that you’ll love just about anything you see her in.

I’m also heavily into music, especially punk rock, and Moss plays a punk singer in her new movie HER SMELL. One modeled after singers like Courtney Love and Patti Smith.

Elizabeth Moss as an out-of-control singer in an all-girl punk rock band? It should be a home run, right? Strangely, it’s not.

HER SMELL has Moss playing Becky Something, the lead singer and guitarist of the band Something She. Her band mates are drummer Ali van der Wolff (Gayle Rankin, also in the Netflix series GLOW and the movie THE GREATEST SHOWMAN, 2017) and Marielle Hell (Agyness Deyn, CLASH OF THE TITANS, 2010) on bass. Becky has a daughter who she brings on tour with her sometimes (at first, I thought she was Ali’s daughter) named Tama. Her entourage (some willing, some not) includes her “shaman” Ya-ema (Eka Darville, JESSICA JONES), who follows her around and burns candles, her always-frustrated manager Howard (Eric Stoltz, MASK , 1985 and PULP FICTION, 1994), her mother Ania (Virginia Madsen, CANDYMAN, 1992, and SIDEWAYS, 2004 ), and her husband Danny (Dan Stevens, of the shows DOWNTON ABBY and LEGION, and the movies THE GUEST, 2014, AND APOSTLE, 2018) a radio disc jockey who keeps bringing divorce papers with him that Becky won’t look at, much less sign.

The movie opens with Something She performing (just one song!) and then leaving and going backstage, in one long, rambling scene where Tama gets passed from person to person, and Becky whines a lot. In fact, whining seems to be Becky’s superpower. For a singer with adoring fans (not sure how that happened!), she’s very insecure (of course, nothing new) and consults with her shaman on every decision she makes (mostly bad ones), as he follows her around constantly, and she bitches at everyone about how they’ve let her down. She’s also heavily into alcohol and drugs (of course). Poor Dan just wants to get the hell away from her, but he’s linked to her because of Tama.

Next, we go to a recording studio, where Becky won’t leave, even though their time is up, and no one has the guts to kick her out (why not just call the cops? I’m sure she’d love the publicity). Along comes The Akergirls, a young band that obviously reminds Becky a lot of her own band when they were just starting out. The Akergirls consist of Roxie Rotten (Ashley Benson of PRETTY LITTLE LIARS and SPRING BREAKERS, 2012), Dottie O.Z. (Dylan Gelula, CHASING LIFE, 2014-2015) and drummer Crassie Cassie (model and actress Cara Delevigne, who always gives a fun performance, and who you may recognize from PAPER TOWNS, 2014, VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS, 2017, and SUICIDE SQUAD, 2016). They’re the new discoveries of Howard, who is trying to get their debut album recorded, because it’s clear that he’s not making much money off Becky anymore and he desperately needs a hit. The new band idolizes Something She, especially Becky, and feel honored just to be in the same studio with them. When Becky’s bandmates take off, completely fed up with her behavior, Becky uses the new girls’ adulation to manipulate them into being her new backup band in the studio, much to Howard’s chagrin (now she definitely won’t be leaving anytime soon).

Later on, at a big gig where the Akergirls are opening for Something She, Becky loses her shit completely and makes a scene, which ends up with her running out on stage, bloody and dazed. This will lead to a hiatus, where Becky tries to get her act together and make a comeback.

The big meltdown includes Becky showing up two hours late, with an impromptu camera crew in tow, and includes more whining until she breaks a bottle and cuts herself and Ali. The bottle cutting seems to pop up because up until then Becky is just annoying as hell, and it’s like the filmmaker suddenly thought, “Hey, I have to actually give her an edge.” The movie is written and directed by Alex Ross Perry, who also gave us LISTEN UP PHILIP (2015) and QUEEN OF EARTH (2015). Oddly enough, he was also one of the writers of the screenplay for the recent Disney film CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (2018).

There are things I liked about HER SMELL, mostly the supporting roles by the members of Becky’s band (Rankin and Deyn are terrific), and The Akergirls. Dan Stevens, always a good actor, is pretty much wasted here as the sad ex who wants to be free from Becky’s psychodrama, but can’t get away.

Moss, who is normally terrific, is mostly irritating here, which is what she’s supposed to be, I guess. But the movie is an endurance test that never really ever making it worth our while. It just doesn’t amount to anything. We’ve seen this kind of movie too many times before: the out-of-control rock star whose life spirals out of control. (Hell, we just saw it in Bradley Cooper’s A STAR IS BORN last year). The thing is, Moss’s Becky offers absolutely nothing new to the equation. She’s not different or interesting in her “out of control” behavior (which is more aggravating than anarchic). Hell, even her band’s songs are kind of boring (and definitely forgettable). I can’t really blame Moss for this. She clearly gives the role her all, in a performance that has been labeled “fearless” by some critics.

My problem here is with Perry’s script, which never once convinces me that Becky Something is someone I should care about. She’s not a profound musician, she’s not a fascinating human being, she’s just an annoyance that people put up with only because they either need her for some reason (employment, motherhood) or are somehow misguided enough to be her fans. If her performances were truly incendiary, then I could see the appeal. But they’re not. Moss tries like hell to make this woman real, but I had a hard time accepting her as a believable character. Whether in total chaos mode or, later on, sober and seemingly reflective, she just never really seems “genuine.” She seems more like a rock star caricature than a true source of drama.

Amber Heard (of DRIVE ANGRY, 2011, and Mera in AQUAMAN, 2018) also appears as Zelda, a bigger star who knew Becky back when they were both starting out, and who tries to help her out. Becky treats her like a hanger-on, and resents any help that’s offered, even though it’s clear Zelda is successful and talented, and frankly, she doesn’t have to waste her time hanging around Becky’s “I’m gonna fall apart all the time” shtick. I’m sure she has better things to do.

So did I.

In something like A STAR IS BORN, Cooper and Lady Gaga were convincing as rock stars, her on the way up, him spiraling down. Not once did I find Becky Something convincing. And that’s really too bad, considering the talent involved in this movie.

I give it two knives.

(c) Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives HER SMELL ~ 2 knives

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