The Forced Embrace of Genius and Madness: Our Review of ‘Her Smell’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - April 12, 2019
The Forced Embrace of Genius and Madness: Our Review of ‘Her Smell’

When you’re witnessing greatness, you just have to shut the fuck up and let it happen…

Her Smell is simply a marathon of emotion and goddamn masterstroke of filmmaking from writer/director Alex Ross Perry with an absolute epic performance from Elizabeth Moss who keeps reinventing the wheel and pushing boundaries with an absolute fearless performance.

Her Smell captures one woman’s chaotic addiction at the pinnacle of 1990’s grunge stardom, her fall to addiction, and her raw transformation through recovery and redemption.

It’s a rarity to see something that is the natural equivalent to a force of nature rise up before your very eyes but with Her Smell that’s exactly what we got as Writer/Director Alex Ross Perry unleashes a raw piece of humanistic cinema on the masses led by a brilliantly unhinged leading performance.

Writer/Director Alex Ross Perry has done some interesting dramatic/comedic narratives in his day but with Her Smell he’s out done himself.  He doesn’t traditionally do films that are this damn cinematic while still only taking place in a handful of fixed locations.  He finds rock bottom for his characters and finds unique and frenetic ways to simply keep going.

While it all plays out with a raw and chaotic energy that puts us on edge from minute one, we are drawn into a vain lack of vanity in the narrative as it makes some pretty bold yet honest commentary on the state of artistic creativity and the pains that come from it.  Perry goes out of his way to make us feel terribly uncomfortable in it all as he lingers on characters and stays in the same places for extended periods in the film.  However, he decides that rather than giving us a downer of an ending like these self destructive rock and roll stories occasionally have, he finds a messy salvation in it all for his main character.  It’s got some clichéd moments to be sure but he wants us to find redemption for his protagonist well past the bottom of the whiskey bottle, and even past the puke that resulted from the binge drinking and drug taking, he wants us to see it in the midst of a complete nervous and physical breakdown in front of an audience for the world to bear witness to it all.  Going this low in a story like this only works when you have a lead who is willing to strip themselves down to the absolute bone and throw themselves into the role of this self destructive creative vampire who needs to feed on the life of those around her.

Perry reteams with Elizabeth Moss here in this and she delivers something that is raw, uncompromising and quite possibly one of the best performances of the year that most people simply won’t see.

Her character of Becky Something, while leaning on many different punk rock icons and story beats of events that have happened in years past, gives us something much more.  Her performance is the epitome of creativity on the brink…and then she pushes it into the deepest of pits…and then climbs out of it to prove she can reclaim at least a small piece of the magic that she possess that burned up right in front of her eyes thanks to her selfish and sociopathic behaviour in the name of her music.

It’s not a reclamation story by any means, it’s instead one about finding the strength to actually change and move on from something that used to be all consuming in her life, to the point that her passion and her music and her way of life, almost ate her alive.

Agyness Dean and Gayle Rankin were incredibly strong as her band mates pushed to the brink while Dan Stevens brought a real world empathy to the ex-boyfriend and father of her young daughter who she hardly ever sees.  Virginia Madsen steals a couple of scenes as her mother while the likes of Ashley Benson, Cara Delevingne, Amber Heard and Eric Stoltz get some moments to shine, however make no mistake, this movie is about Moss and a frenetic performance that should go down as one of her all time best, which even at this stage in her career is saying something.

At the end of the day, while this story was obviously inspired by some elements of real rock and roll history, it’s also a testament to the fact that fiction will almost always be more compelling then fact.  Her Smell is like a forced embrace of obvious madness on the big screen and while it won’t be for everyone, when you look carefully enough the genius that runs throughout this film is as clear as goddamn day.

Her Smell is playing now at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and this Sunday the 14th at 2:55 PM screening of the film, star Elizabeth Moss will be there in person for a Q&A!

  • Release Date: 4/12/2019
This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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