Nauseating by design and visceral in experience, with a running time that is about 30 minutes over-long, “Her Smell”, the sixth feature from indie film writer-director Alex Ross Perry (Queen of Earth, Listen Up Philip, Golden Exits) is perhaps his most compassionate film to date. Its an emotionally bleak backstage rock-n-roll drama that almost feels like a Gaspar Noe film, where all the chaos gives you a visceral reaction, yet you feel relieved once the film slows down and gets more restrained.
Perry continues to grow with film technique and invoking emotional reactions, with shades of Ingmar Bergman and touches of “Birdman” meets “Vox Lux”, the film is about mental health as the film explores a popular rock star named Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss) who’s the lead singer of the all female-rock band Something She as her psychosis and mind go down a path of self-destruction as she loses self-control from drug-abuse and other forms of alienation and disconnect.
She alienates her bandmates, Marielle Hell (Agness Deyn) and Ali (Gayle Rankin due to her temper and disagreements, and she costs her manger Howard (Eric Stoltz) a lot of time and even money in the studio as they try to complete their new album, as her young daughter is often in the background being exposed to her terrible temperament.
The film is set up in 4 segments that all basically explore her challenges, psychological torment and struggles in her creative process, weather its recording an album or facing a live stage at a crowded concert. The films finest and most Bergmanesque moments is the moments where Becky sobers herself up as she is afraid to leave her house. She ends up reconnecting and ultimately reconciling with Ali and begins to open up with her daughter as law suits are piled up against her. There are small details of Becky brewing tea, and observing out the window as if you were watching Ingmar Bergman’s work.
I will admit the first half of “Her Smell” is a challenge to endure, its visually chaotic with dizzy camerawork that will make you feel quite ill, and it will leave you feeling winded. If you make it through the first half, you will find great beauty and a strong character arc and growth with its protagonist. The film has a theatrical feel to it, it almost has the feel of “Birdman”, except even more audacious and crazy, and it almost feels like a ranting and verbose stage play.
Eventually the film becomes sensible, balanced and restrained, and Moss truly delivers an emotionally charged and empathetic performance. The film ends on a triumphant note, the question is will audience want to endure it for that long? If you stay with it, you will be rewarded.