Becky Something can’t sit still. She walks, lunges, dances, grabs, and stabs with a frenetic energy. She’s human dynamite: fragile, feared and ready to explode at a moment’s notice, which makes the slivers of time where she is quiet and still remarkable. Her Smell charts the full breadth of Becky’s emotions, cataloguing her at her most wildly manic and nervously serene. Played with the fervor of a cult leader by Elisabeth Moss, Her Smell is an exercise in growth and a study in endings. It’s the life and death of an encore.
Dirty studios, decrepit houses, the labyrinthine halls of a venue’s backstage, Becky Something and her bandmates Marielle Hell (the permanently chill Agyness Deyn) and Ali van der Wolff (Gayle Rankin who is typecast as a wolf now?) are trapped in the spaces in between, counting down the moments until they can be back on stage again. The harder they try to recapture the magic and success of their earlier albums (and, by extension, their youth), the more Becky goes off the rails. She gets drunk and/or high, she disappears, she shows up hours late and she soaks up all of their precious time winding herself up, spitting out sermons that sounds like they came straight from the mouth of Jim Jones. By the time she runs out of gas, everything they’ve worked for has been forgotten.
And then there’s the sobering up process. The long quiet moments alone, the righting of wrongs and the re-emergence of Becky’s final (and first) form: Rebecca Adamcyzk. As fun as Her Smell is when Moss is left alone to ramble off wild monologues that boil down to the old teen adage “Boo hoo, no one understands me,” it manages to be just as captivating when she’s reeling herself in. Even without the drugs, the drinking and the band drama, Becky retains some of her wildness. She still says things that are off the wall bonkers and she can’t quite shake her narcissistic habits. Sobriety doesn’t make her into a different person, but it makes her want to try.
Throughout the highs and lows, director Alex Ross Perry laces Her Smell with enough grime to give the movie a scent. The film is spiked with sweat, spit, snot, and glitter. There’s no romance here, even when the characters are dressed in their rock and roll best, they still look sickly with their pale faces and constant sheen of sweat. Even their shows are a mess, portrayed as no more than a blur of lights and emotion.
While the grime suits the mood, the one thing missing from Her Smell is any sort of on stage charisma. Maybe it’s by design, but Moss comes off as a much better performer when she’s offstage than on. Otherwise, her and her bandmates spend their performances looking stiff and almost uninterested. Moss is able to conjure up a vulnerability that makes it seem like music is a passion when she’s playing alone and in recovery, but even those scenes are weak compared to the magic that is Becky, Marielle, and Ali in a room.
Her Smell is a freight train taking us on a whirlwind tour of the end of Becky Something. It’s a rollercoaster through self obsession and addiction. It’s a meditation on losing yourself to a persona, and a fight to figure out if there’s anyone behind the curtain at all. At the very least, it’s never boring.