By Ashley Teresa
19th May 2019

The life and career of a rock star is a subject meticulously documented and analysed throughout the history of film, and Alex Ross Perry ('Listen Up Phillip') and Elizabeth Moss (TV's 'The Handmaid's Tale', 'The One I Love') team up as 'Her Smell' seeks to shake the foundations of the entire subgenre. The film follows the self-destructive path of fictional rock star Becky Something, lead singer of the band Something She. The band's name has a clever double meaning; not only does it include its front woman's surname, but it also reflects the band's tumultuous rise and subsequent tumble from fame thanks Becky's volatile behaviour. The band's dwindling tour sales and haemorrhaging of their record label's funding is all a result of "something she" has said, "something she" has done. It would be easy to draw comparisons between 'A Star Is Born' and 'Vox Lux', two recent and excellent films that cover similar thematic ground, but 'Her Smell' is a different beast of its entirely own breed. Becky is no fledgling Lady Gaga, and this is a choice for the best.


I could dedicate an entire review to analysing the layers of Elizabeth Moss' performance. Told in five real-time vignettes, the captivating glue holding them together is Moss' transcendent performance. Channeling 2007 Britney Spears, Becky does everything in her power to piss off and push the people most willing to help away - her main targets are her bandmates (Gayle Rankin, 'The Greatest Showman', and Agyness Deyn, 'Pusher') and ex-husband (Dan Stevens, 'Beauty And The Beast'). Blame it on the substance abuse or blame it on the pressure of her career failing, but Becky doesn't seem interested in being a figure of sympathy for either the people in her life or the audience. Becky is irritating by design, and it's a hallmark of good acting that Moss is able to make a character so deliberately crafted to test audience patience, feel so magnetic and worthy of attention. Her self-centred attitude and lack of decorum shine brightest when Becky leeches on the coattails of a new, younger, up-and-coming girl group. For all her shortcomings, Becky is smart and savvy, knowing the best chance of keeping her star alive is to cling to this new group, acting like she is the one doing them the favour by opening their tour instead of the other way around.

Told in five real-time vignettes, the captivating glue holding them together is Elizabeth Moss' transcendent performance.

The first three vignettes in particular are some of the most intense cinema I have seen so far this year. Perry amplifies the claustrophobia by choosing to film in windowless, crowded rooms and hallways, use of constant closeups and his swirling camera work. The camera barely sits still during this time, as if it is drunkenly stumbling backstage with Becky. I was initially apprehensive of the film's 135 minute run time, unsure if a story like this could sustain it, but it actually works very much in the film's favour. The run time could've been the perfect excuse to give the audience as much breathing time as possible, but the experience is nowhere near that kind. Much like Becky herself, the film doesn't give a shit if you're comfortable. Becky performs emotional trapeze swings in each scene, from paranoia to hysterical laughing to straight up anger, saturated in alcohol and smudged glitter makeup. It's exhausting, it's challenging, and it's a sight to behold.

While the calmest point of the film, the films fourth vignette is also one of the most heartbreaking. Despite Becky's uncanny ability to push everyone in her life away and piss off the audience, there is still a care and love shown to her by those around her, however undeserved it may be. We may love to watch our celebrities fall, but we also want to see them get back up. The fallout of her behaviour and deeper dive into Becky's psyche is punctuated by a stunning rendition of Bryan Adams' classic 'Heaven', a delicate moment of true talent that makes Becky's fall from grace land that much harder by comparison.

'Her Smell' may not break any ground previously covered by other films about music stars, but it is a truly unique experience. The fantastic performances from the supporting cast, like their characters, are overshadowed by the larger-than-life Becky, an unstoppable tornado of hysteria and booze, brought to life with a performance that reeks of excellence.

Looking for more Sydney Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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