Before stepping into the Glasgow Film Theatre for the Film Festival’s screening of Her Smell, I would be hard pushed to believe that I would find one of the most poignant scenes of the film that of Elisabeth Moss performing a stripped down piano version of Bryan Adams’ Heaven. However, this is really testament to the down right stunning performance that she offers up for this film feature, which looks at a self-destructive punk rocker struggling with sobriety. Programmed as part of their Sound & Vision strand of the festival, Her Smell is an unusual take on a biopic, which often provides us with the feeling of dread, as performances, the score and camera leave an unsettling resonance with the audience.
If there was any doubt from series such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Top of the Lake that Elisabeth Moss can act, Her Smell really throws that question out of your mind. Her tour-de-force performance in this film, which could easily be construed as a horror, does not leave you once you leave the cinema. Director Alex Ross Perry focuses this feature entirely on grunge icon Becky Something, the front woman for ‘90s rock band Something She, creating somewhat of a insidious, documentary-style biopic. Wife, mother and supremely talented performer, we see her at her peak, as we are introduced to Something She, but through narcissism, drugs, alcohol, fights, and more underlying insecurities, it is not long before Becky Something hits rock bottom, which we see through an overstretched recording session scene and the moment we see her bloodied, screaming at the crowd. Security are needed to carry her, the singer of the band, out of the venue. By the end of the two hours and fourteen minutes, we have certainly seen a great deal of blood, sweat and tears, which renders this biopic different to many we have seen previous, outlining the more sinister sides to superstardom. It can certainly lead some to a narcissistic life of coke, booze and self-importance.
Having it’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, this feature has already gained a great deal of praise, and well rightly so, as this unexpectedly blistering performance from Moss is really the back bone of the film. Yes, the score is brilliant and that handheld camera style works wonder for adding to the intensity and suspense within this film, but without Becky Something portrayed as she is, the rest of the film would lose the appeal. The Akergirls, which we are never really given an insight to, seemed to skate over the surface of the film, adding a superficiality to Her Smell. There are certainly hints to the characters in Becky Something’s band, Marielle Hell and Ali van der Wolff, performed by Agyness Deyn and Gayle Rankin, as they lost patience and their ability to watch the lead singer throw herself to her demise, but the focus is on Becky, and her efforts to recapture the success she had previously. A must-see performance, Her Smell considers the hellish aspects of success and the route down, after the feet leave the floor.
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