“You can’t be fully acquainted with Becky Something until you want her to f*** off” is the piece of advice that Becky’s weary bandmate Marielle Hell (Agyness Deyn) gives to an up-and-coming all-female band. She is imparting this wisdom on the audience as well. In order to truly understand the tornado that is Becky (Elisabeth Moss) one must be willing to stick with the protagonist of Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell even in her darkest and most annoyingly erratic moments.
Truth be told, the frenzied first-half of Perry’s film feels like a litmus test for the audience. It is in the dank hallways and messy back rooms of bars that Becky is most volatile. Disheveled and barely able to recall the pseudo-philosophical jargon she spouts; Becky is the embodiment of the darker side of the rock and roll lifestyle. She has partied hard and it seems everyone around her are the ones paying the price.
Surrounded by her personal shaman Ya-ema (Eka Darville), Becky seems more concerned with placing a curse on her ex’s new wife then going back on tour or finishing the album her band Something She was supposed to deliver months ago. Her bandmates, which consists of bassist Marielle and drummer Ali van der Wolff (Gayle Rankin), are way past their breaking point with her and are turning to other vices to cope. They are not alone in their misery. Their manager Howard Goodman (Eric Stoltz) worries that he might lose his label if their album does not manifest soon; and Becky’s ex Danny (Dan Stevens) desperately needs Becky to sober up and be a responsible mother to their baby girl.
A dizzying and unforgettable portrait of addiction, Perry’s film captures how the path to redemption is rarely clear. As Becky descends further into the abyss and alienates those around her, including her mother (Virginia Madsen) and fellow musician Zelda (Amber Heard), in the process, she can no longer hide from what haunts her. It is in the quiet moments, which are few and fleeting in the frenzied first three acts, that Perry carefully shows that Becky’s talent was never in question, but her strength to repel her vices were.
Capturing the self-destructive way drugs and fame have derailed Becky’s life, Moss give a blistering performance that is her finest work to date. Seamlessly drifting from frantic to childish to dangerous, Moss is simply magnetic. She brings great depth to a character that could have easily been reduced to a caricature in a lesser talent’s hands. This also allows the redemptive arc, in which the film’s feverish pacing slows to a crawl, to resonate.
No matter how much we are disturbed or frustrated by Becky’s action, Moss ensures that we are with Becky every step of the way, which ultimately gets to the core of the film’s themes. It is the people who are willing to see us at our darkest moments that we are grateful for the most when we return to the light.