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article imageReview: TIFF 2018: ‘Her Smell’ tells a reckless story with precise flair Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Sep 16, 2018 in Entertainment
‘Her Smell’ is the entrancing story of a grunge singer at the height of her career who tumbles off the cliff of her success, hitting every rock on the way down to the bottom.
The image of the “tortured artist” is cliché only because it’s been shown to be true so often. The same goes for addicted musicians and celebrities entering rehab… or worse, dying from overdoses. Of course, all of these things happen to “regular” folk too, but their exploits don’t usually make headline news, nor do they have hundreds/thousands/millions of fans hanging on their every word. It’s almost a tale as old as time and one that’s been portrayed many times for the screen, but there’s still some people out there looking for different ways to tell this story — as shown in Her Smell.
Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss) became a household name as lead singer of Something She, alongside bandmates Ali (Gayle Rankin) and Mari (Agyness Deyn). Their manager, Howard (Eric Stoltz), took a chance on them a few years ago and they made it big. But this isn’t an account of their success, rather the downfall of Becky who at the start of the film can barely stand or remember where she has to be tomorrow. Her husband, Danny (Dan Stevens), is possibly the most tolerant guy on the planet, navigating Becky’s crazy behaviour to let her have a chance to see her daughter grow up. But time only makes things worse and rock bottom is coming to whack her in the face real hard, real soon.
This story is told in five acts, but it doesn’t start from the beginning… more like the beginning of the end. The first chapter opens with the bands encore followed by their backstage activities that include the typical drugs and alcohol. Paired with a strange shaman ritual, Becky flies into a rage, attacks her loved ones because a vision said they’re trying to sabotage her and finally passes out before she can cause anymore damage. A trip to the recording studio results in hours of wasted money as Becky has essentially poisoned any semblance of musical genius she once had, but refuses to throw in the towel. She claims to feed off of the energy of Howard’s new girl band, the Akergirls — Cassie (Cara Delevigne), Dottie (Dylan Gelula), and Roxie (Ashley Benson) — who she claims will reinvigorate her… if she doesn’t drag them down with her first, which becomes a distinct possibility as the bands intertwine.
After finally hitting rock bottom, Becky goes into hiding. Avoiding everything and everyone, she shuns anything connected to her former life and addictions. Any music she writes and plays is entirely for herself, though she does fulfill the odd request, including a beautiful rendition of Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” for her daughter — a far cry from the punk ballads she once performed on stage and a symbol of the clarity she’s gained since those blurry nights. The final test is a reunion show that drops Becky back into the centre of her temptations and triggers with worried bandmates chasing their missing singer and a full house chanting her name.
When the picture reveals Something She rocking out at a sold out venue in all of their grunge glory, one can’t help but think of ‘90s all-girl bands such as Hole and L7 — their look and music is a blast from this notable past of female punk rockers. As the camera moves closer to the individual players, the parallel between Becky and Courtney Love is obvious (even though writer/director Alex Ross Perry insists she wasn’t an inspiration). While at the top, Becky has a short attention span that borders on drug-induced biopolar disorder, talking faster than most people can follow and painting pictures of larger-than-life adventures she’ll forget as soon as she completes her next sentence. Moss is exceptional, drawing audiences into this crazy world of indulgence that both tolerates and feeds her need for excess. She portrays this manic personality with complete authenticity, never missing a beat or letting the wildness leave her eyes. From reckless to excessively guarded, Moss becomes lost in Becky’s one-woman show.
The rest of the cast is crucial to telling this story, but there’s no question they are on the periphery of the spotlight that shines on Becky. Viewers will find themselves engrossed in her madness, enthralled by her recovery and gripped by the prospect of her relapse.
Her Smell had its world premiere in the Platform category at the Toronto International Film Festival. Don’t miss the rest of our TIFF 2018 coverage.
Director: Alex Ross Perry
Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Cara Delevingne and Dan Stevens
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