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  Her Smell Hard Rockin'
Year: 2018
Director: Alex Ross Perry
Stars: Elisabeth Moss, Cara Delevingne, Dan Stevens, Agyness Deyn, Gayle Rankin, Ashley Benson, Dylan Gelula, Lindsay Burge, Hannah Gross, Virginia Madsen, Eric Stoltz, Amber Heard, Daisy Pugh-Weiss, Jessie Pinnick, Yusef Bulos, Keith Poulson, Jeremy Sample
Genre: Drama, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss) is the lead singer of her own three-piece riot grrrl group, along with Marielle Hell (Agyness Deyn) and Ali van der Wolff (Gayle Rankin), and for a while there they were doing very well, with a small legion of fans and critical acclaim boosting their egos. Alas, Becky probably did not need her ego boosted any more, as she has become a typical showbiz monster, treating everyone around her like shit if they dare stand up to her, and abusing her own body with various substances. This is a terrible example to show to her baby daughter, who is about the only person she has any respect for, but even so her qualifications as a mother are looking shaky...

Not to mention her qualifications as a musician and composer in this, another collaboration between writer and director Alex Ross Perry and Moss after their Ingmar Bergman riff Queen of Earth. That had been pretty densely packed, no matter that it would not have existed without Persona, but the rock biopic was a well-trod genre as well, so could they bring a fresh spin on it by centring around a female rock star on a path to self-destruction rather than the more familiar cliché of a male one? Many observed the results owed a lot to Courtney Love and her band Hole, though Perry said he was more inspired by the biography of Axl Rose of eighties hard rockers Guns 'n' Roses. Was he right?

Maybe that was down to more people being well-versed in Love's bad behaviour and ultimately tragic circumstances, though Becky here is not married to a suicidal, fellow musician, and instead has Dan Stevens as her unimpressed ex-partner, the one who she had the baby with. There was a lot of the testing of the boundaries of motherhood here, as if to say, women should not go on drink and drugs binges when they have the responsibilities of children to raise, whether they actually have them or not, which could be a conservative viewpoint if it had not been for the way we see Becky's creativity filtered through this lens of accelerating down a highway to utter oblivion.

So it could be that Becky is betraying her responsibility to herself, really - she loves her daughter, that is not in any doubt, she just cannot look after her to any degree of success. The part of her life that is successful comes across as unlikely in itself when what we see of her composing and performing was underwhelming, and that was difficult to perceive as a deliberate choice of the director, or something accidental and we were actually supposed to be tremendously impressed by her rock credentials. That aspect did work against the overall effect, though you could argue Rose and Love, among others, impressed dwindling numbers of music fans the further their career went on, so it could be we have caught up with Becky at a stage when she is heading down the dumper with wild abandon.

Perry adopted a woozy, boozy atmosphere to Her Smell (and he was inviting some very scathing assessments with that title), with his protagonist stumbling around, insulting all and sundry, getting into ridiculous cult-like behaviour (interesting when Moss was an ardent Scientologist - did she see the irony?) and generally tearing up any goodwill she might have previously enjoyed. By the end we can understand it was her addictions talking and she was perfectly capable of behaving with restraint and reason, as the film becomes more sympathetic towards her, noting that there are other, more talented female musicians following in her footsteps who do not mean to usurp her, but are doing so anyway. It was a self-indulgent film about self-indulgence, showcasing a showy central performance, but Moss always had a go-to expression of disgust in her arsenal and she used it with flair here. Albeit in resistible style when her character was so hard to get along with until, well, she wasn't. Some people just grow out of bad habits. Music by Keegan DeWitt.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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