**½ (out of ****)
Elisabeth Moss dominates Her Smell with a performance of what can only be described as messy precision. Here is another film from writer/director Alex Ross Perry that gives the audience a deep-dive into a character who is nearly impossible to like, difficult to sympathize with, and remarkably misanthropic. Here, too, is another collaboration between Moss and Perry, who have worked twice before on films with similar characteristics but overhaul them entirely here for a psychodrama about the price of celebrity and the ravages of addiction. It really isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, but still, there is this performance.
Moss plays Becky, the lead guitarist and vocalist for a girl group who has adopted the stage name of “Becky Something” and named the band, Something She, after herself. As the film opens, it is clear that Becky is less of a time bomb ready to explode than a bomb that has already exploded. Everyone and everything else, but mostly her bandmates Mari (Agness Deyn) and Ali (Gayle Rankin, heartbreaking in a phenomenal performance of smiling through aggravation), are the unfortunate casualties along that warpath. The plot follows the members of the group readying themselves to record an EP and dealing with Becky’s explosive personality. At the same time, Danny (Dan Stevens), Becky’s ex-husband/ex-boyfriend/ex-something-romantic, visits with their child.
It’s equally clear that Becky is in the throes of addiction. She stumbles through the dialogue, which is heightened from its more naturalistic state to mirror the heightened tension of the situation into which she puts everyone else, and consistently blows up everyone else, such as her mother (played by Virginia Madsen) and producer (played by Eric Stoltz) – but not her pair of token spiritual mystics, who excise every demon except the one that plagues her. When a hot, young, new girl group (whose members are played by Cara Delevingne, Ashley Benson, and Dylan Gelula) arrives at the studio to record their album, the barely-functioning Becky invites them to finish her album.
The problems, ironically enough, arrive as Becky starts down the road to recovery, with Perry jumping forward in the future by at least a year for a great extended scene (There are really only five here, as the story is so insular) between two characters who need mending. If Perry had ended the film upon the closure reached here, Her Smell would have been an exhausting but perceptive character study. It goes on, though, literalizing its themes in a way that it doesn’t need to. The final stretch here is not completely extraneous. There exists an important point to make about this character. More ambiguity and less tidying would have been more appreciated.
(Review by Joel Copling)