SR Film Review: “Her Smell”
Alex Ross Perry certainly does not make bad movies. It might feel that way sometimes, but a good case can usually be made for giving him the benefit of the doubt, for presuming his decisions come from a place of taste, from a place of intended craft, rather than a poor decisive capacity (or a potential total lack of one) that just so happens to work in a kind of sideways viewing. By that, I mean that even if you don’t particularly like his work, there still seems to be something worth watching, an experience, more or less, worth having. Furthermore, for those who can sit through the seeming faults— the false notes and blue notes seemingly alike— or rather, for those who don’t see them as faults at all (which really seems to be the majority of people that see his works), they can be poignantly rewarding.
Her smell is certainly such a work, if not the finest of them. The film doesn’t ostensibly retain the aesthetic elements readily associated with the filmmaker (in fact at times it almost comes off as a generic rendition of a film of his), but certainly feels like a film of his and anyone who knows what that means will know that it’s a pretty prominent and relatively unmistakable thing in its idiosyncrasy, taste, character, even in what appears to be a polished take (though it should also be noted how comparatively low budget this polished take is to actual polish).
The film isn’t exactly one that can be ruined by giving away details, but it’s definitely better to leave less said, especially considering that despite its glaring qualities that scream “I’m a movie”, the film delivers a circumstance that more than definitely compels and effects in such a way that only real life can. Like Perry’s earlier work, the lens chooses an unorthodox subject, in this film, as the title poetically suggests, the residual stink of a person. The film plays as a series of backstage happenings (reminiscently of 2015’s Steve Jobs— which isn’t exactly a compliment as much as it isn’t an insult), spread years apart yet pointedly crafted and curated to the expositional will of its creators, following underground rock star, Becky Something (real name, Rebecca Adamchik— played to a humanity not commonly seen in films, particularly this film, by Elizabeth Moss) as she goes from room to room, person to person, spewing negativity, complication, and narcissistic attention baiting, manipulating herself and those around her as she nosedives into a pool of cognitive dissonance, repression, and delusion. Each blip is intercut with “home footage” that begins with the bands’ initial record deal signing and leads into the films “present” private domestic circumstances of the leading character, her child, etc. The film gazes unwaveringly at the overtly irksome, frustrating, and seemingly malicious behavior she exhibits, dwelling on her even after her outlandish moments seem to come to a halt (or until there is no one left in her chaos but her) forcing us not only to endure but, more importantly, to empathize, to account for her and her certain experience— to register/affirm her humanity through the example of her plight.
Certain aspects of the writing/conception of characters, combined with certain aspects/moments of their respective performances, come off as hokey, as exaggerated/contrived (in a way, taking somewhat too seriously the almost feigned qualities of some people’s public personalities, people’s personas) but that is more than compensated for by the perspective of the film, manifest in its form and signified in its effect, making out well by dwelling on the point (of a line, of a scene, of the film) instead of the tools that it uses to come to it. Apart from that, throughout the film, as potentially unrealistic as my feeling might have been, I constantly wanted to see someone actually act responsibly and not give into her melodrama by concisely and affirmatively bringing up her issues regarding her mental health and their ramifications in such a way as to actually help things. That’s not to say that everyone in the film is irresponsible, per se, or that they are necessarily adding to the tension, but that’s certainly to say that for the most part, they don’t seem to react so well—but then again how or why should they be expected to know how to? And what’s the use if she won’t hear it?
It’s definitely something that won’t be easily digested by some, be it due to the subject matter, certain difficult moments, or even the technical poverty of certain moments, such as those of poor acting, poor writing or what have you, but for those who find it within themselves to make a connection with the film, lies an experience that only a true human expression (or at least, in this case, it’s rough articulation) can inspire.