Meet Becky Adamcyzk, she’s the ring leader of the grunge rock band “Something She” past their prime, still looking to capitalize on their now fading fame. They are talented enough to pack a rustic looking venue ripe for their flavor of music, the fans they have gained since their inception haven’t gone away, but the only roadblock is that Becky has gotten caught up in the rush of rock-star culture.
She uses the persona “Becky Something” as a means of escaping, a defense mechanism, a way to unleash and become a different person on stage as opposed to who she is otherwise. Yet, her savage personality than creeps into who Becky Adamcyzk is and the two personas lose track of the one person’s sanity. We see her vomiting out nonsensical monologues like it’s just breathing air, the speed at which you can see her mind working is just exhausting, like you’re there in the room with every other onlooker that has to deal with her. She leaves you in awe with some of the things she’ll say like “Promise me, mama, when I die, have the coffin arrive half an hour late and on the side written in gold letters: ‘sorry for the delay‘ and ‘ding-dong the bitch is back‘. Oh, and her own personal Satan worshipers.
The rock-star life and stress that comes along with success has clearly taken a toll on her and those around her. Including her best friends and band-mates Marielle (Agyness Deyn) and Ali (Gayle Rankin) who, despite the frustrations, still see the friend they know and love. But they aren’t off the hook either, Marielle has a coke problem to use as an escape through the toxicity and Ali becomes more disinterested as the film goes on with the shenanigans Becky is up to next. Danny (Dan Stevens) is Becky’s ex who is now remarried, but he and Becky have a daughter to attend to. It is apparent from the second Danny walks into the green room that his already sick and tired of her nonsense, knowing what to expect and just wants it to be over. The manager of Something She is Howard Goodman (Eric Stoltz), he has been around to see the rise and fall for just as long as anyone else. Stoltz doesn’t play Howard like a sleazy and condescending producer, but someone who has plentiful sympathy for Becky and the love he has to witness Something She becomes celebrated once again.
Becky’s mom, Ania (Virginia Madsen), storms in with little love she has remaining and one final note from Becky’s dad she delivers right before her daughters’ most devastating rock bottom yet. Seeing how this mother/ daughter duo has disintegrated faster as Something She was becoming more integrated, it gives Ania little hope for how Becky would manage her granddaughter. On top of all this, Howard is looking to sign new talent who look and feel oddly enough like next-generation duplicates of Something She (Cara Delevingne, Ashley Benson and Dylan Gelula) who can replicate that similar feel without losing the same niche that fans of Something She garnered so long ago.
Imagine the “behind the curtain” structure of Steve Jobs with an overwhelming personal tragedy of A Woman Under the Influence. The film is split into five acts (or just elongated scenes of Perry introducing another branch of Becky’s life), witnessing Becky’s mentality that has already become unstable, confronting others who don’t deserve a verbal confrontation, hitting somewhere below rock bottom and climbing her way back up to one final performance. Including bookmarking from stock home video footage, to key milestones during the height of Something She’s popularity, like their first platinum record or first time making it on the cover of a magazine.
These brief moments feel so pure and hopeful, seeing a group of friends live out their dreams becomes infectious and improves our sympathy for Becky, when juxtaposed with how intoxicating and stressful the green room moments can be. It acts as a primer for the devastating downfall to come, like a confirmation that alerts us there where much better times before the present and this is kind of energy that success that has on some who may become seduced and egotistical. Perry keeps the film the film tight with nowhere else to go, everyone enters the film with a purpose and a bone to pick, how far can they go to put up with Becky is what keeps the film from good to great.
If the cast of kinetic characters doesn’t cause enough of the chaos, Perry utilizes sound to enhance the tangibility of an environment of the central venue a majority of the film takes place in, from every inhale of a cigarette to anonymous noises of everyone trying to tame Becky during her moments which she lets loose after a show. Even the moments of silence within frustration and tension that make the noises perk up even more like a flickering light bulb or clashing of grimy drum sticks. At times, there can be so many people talking you don’t know who to aim at or pay attention to, Perry miraculously contains this verbal madness to feel disorientation but never irritating like it so easily could have been. It’s a kind of mood seen before from Perry in past films like Queen of Earth, but Her Smell only solidifies what was suspected that he was capable of.
It is uneasy and hectic, also exemplified well by cinematographer and frequent collaborator Sean Price Williams (whose work you can find in the Safdie brothers’ Heaven knows what and Good Time). It’s frenetic and raw, never glossy and superficial, which you could expect in order to try and glam up the life of a beloved musician. The colors blend together to create a hazy feel, like the neon greens and pinks and the gritty reds that create contrast within a few particular instances. Williams’ camerawork almost becomes nervous, almost as if the movie itself is on edge to find out what Becky is up to next. It is just as messy and wild as a Becky herself, free-spirited yet cruel.
This is the best work I have seen from both Perry and Moss. Both firing on all cylinders to make a story as unexplored as it is conventional. There is something about a fictional musician that makes it much more engaging than time spent with a nonfictional recounting of a musicians life. Think This Is Spinal Tap, Inside Llewyn Davis or any of the four A Star is Born(s); we don’t know how these characters journeys may end up, given it is not a direct correlation with real life. Inspiration, sure, but when the music biopic runs dry, seeing Alex Ross Perry make a movie about this community he has affection for and the slice of time in rock history is quite refreshing. Becky is a wholly original creation and an arresting one at that in an otherwise unoriginal world. We aren’t there for every beat of a traditional rise and fall, but the unfamiliar structure keeps an on edge experience.
This is a rewarding, yet revolting cinematic experience, one that is rare to find in which your sympathy for an otherwise unsympathetic protagonist can be so tested. The other band-mates, Marielle and Ali, are ready to break off Something She’s new album, just relying on how much they’ve had it with Becky, just like we have. You don’t blame them either, as it is a perfectly justified decision despite her talent and attraction over the many years of sold-out shows.
However, when you see Becky’s lowest low and the “Becky Something” of it all now stripped away, you see how vulnerable and afraid she has been for so long. After all the fun and the shows and the alcohol, she is still someone with a Courtney Love-like sound and look with a desire to perform. The person we once knew as the crazy lady shouting nonsense at the party you don’t want to talk to is now just a victim of her own creation. If you stick it out for this long, it is well worth the wait after all the sickening madness that occurs during the rest of the film.
In the end, Her Smell is a lot to take in. A film that challenges you to see a delusionally broken person to fix herself, in a finale that Becky finally allows herself to finally make one unselfish decision. Perry doesn’t dislike the music industry or what it does to those who get involved, in fact, he savors it all in like he’s living in this time again. The high energetic adrenaline after you’ve given your all in a sold-out show or the stupid drunk thing you said backstage. The idea of being great at one thing and having taken away of that one talent is terrifying. Using this backdrop further emphasizes how much of one’s life goes away when you don’t have control over it, even in the life of a rock-star.