Elisabeth Moss Goes Full Riot Grrrl in Alex Ross Perry’s ‘Her Smell’
Elisabeth Moss lets out her darker side once again as she reteams with “Queen of Earth” filmmaker Alex Ross Perry for “Her Smell,” an intense psychodrama. Broken down into five acts, the film follows Rebecca Adamcyzk (Moss), a.k.a. Becky Something, the strung out frontwoman of all-female alt-rock band, Something She. Moss gives a ferocious performance as Becky, as she portrays this force of nature.
The first act of “Her Smell,” which is set backstage at a Something She show, has a feverish feel, as Becky, heavily under the influence, lashes out at anyone in the vicinity, including her long-suffering bandmates, Marielle (Agyness Deyn) and Ali (Gayle Rankin). The distorted sound serves to make the viewer even more uncomfortable as Becky sucks the air out of several small rooms. Also making the scene uneasy is the presence of Becky’s infant daughter, Tama, who is brought in by the child’s father, Danny (Dan Stevens). Stevens brings much to this role of the thankless ex, who is still wounded from Becky’s unceremonious dumping of him seven months prior to Tama’s birth. Still, he comes off as a decent guy who sincerely wants what’s best for his child, even if it means taking abuse from Becky. But even the baby isn’t safe from her mother’s volatile behavior, further fueling the shakiness and tension.
One thing that sets “Her Smell” apart from most rock films is that is is set in a female-dominated world. Besides Danny, the only other major male character is Howard (Eric Stoltz), Something She’s record label owner who is something of an exasperated father figure to Becky, albeit a father who ends up suing her. Howard, along with Marielle, Al,i and the viewer, starts to really lose patience with Becky in the second act, an overlong studio session in which the frontwoman delays things and pushes her bandmates to their breaking points with her sadistic behavior. One starts to understand how she gets away with such behavior upon the arrival of the Akergirls—Cassie (Cara Delevigne), Dottie (Dylan Gelula), and Roxie (Ashley Benson)—a trio trained musicians who are awed by this larger than life rocker who they have presumably long admired.
Other women in Becky’s orbit include fellow rocker Zelda (an unrecognizable Amber Heard), who, while it would not be untrue to call her Becky’s rival, their relationship is actually more complicated than that. There’s also Ania (Virginia Madsen), Becky’s mother who is both proud and resentful of her daughter. By act the end of act three, Becky has reached rock bottom; as the Akergirls put it best—”Kill your idols,” says Roxie. “Give them enough rope and they will do it themselves,” adds Cassie.
Speaking of idols, one cannot help but think of who served as inspiration for Becky. Courtney Love seems like the obvious choice. However, Ross Perry has said in interviews that he didn’t base the character off of the Hole frontwoman, although Moss has stated that during her preparation she viewed “Montage of Heck,” the revealing documentary about Love’s late husband, Kurt Cobain, that includes intimate home movies of the couple. The truth is Ross Perry most likely was influenced by the broader riot grrrl movement that took place in the early nineties. In the fourth act, we see a more tranquil Becky sporting a t-shirt with the logo for Evergreen State College, the school in Olympia that many consider the birthplace for this feminist punk movement. While “Her Smell” spans roughly half a decade, the exact years in which it is set are never given, although the lack of cell phones suggest a bygone era, while the music and overall grunge aesthetic certainly scream nineties.
No matter where her inspiration came from, Moss drives the whole film, giving a tireless performance, going through a hurricane of emotions and making use of all the space of every room she is in. By act four, we see a very different Becky, and not only does Moss’ vulnerability shine through here, but her musical chops as well.
“Her Smell” opens April 12 in New York, April 19 in Los Angeles and select cities, with an expansion to follow.