We don’t see punk rocker Becky Something imbibe. We don’t need to.
It’s in her manner, manic — antic, peppered with breathless profane patter.
It’s in her eyes — weepy and bloodshot, alternately crazed and compassionate. Bipolar much?
Hell, it’s in her name. Becky Something? She changed her moniker from Rebecca Adamcyzk to shorthand for “I forgot her name.” Something.
Elisabeth Moss channels a hundred self-absorbed, self-destructive rock legends as Becky in “Her Smell,” a tale told on tenterhooks about the lead singer of the power punk trio Something She.
It’s a tour de force two-hour-plus turn that carries the best film writer-director Alex Ross Perry (“Golden Exits,” “Listen Up Philip”) has cooked up with his longtime muse, the “Mad Men/Handmaid’s Tale” star.
“Her Smell” is filmed as an intimate, forget-the-camera-is-there (save for one scene) rockumentary, capturing an arrogant, blitzed diva near the end of her downhill slide. We get over an hour of this Becky, crazy and rich enough to do whatever drugs put her in this state, indulged enough to have her own pair of shamans to burn incense, because “As you know, I am not myself if I don’t visit my other reality” before each late-starting (if she starts at all) show.
Ali van der Wolf, the drummer (Gayle Rankin, resentful, needy perfection) is way past over the blitzed, bombed, tripping-out no-show ruining their livelihoods.
“She’s in a self-proclaimed ‘groove,'” Ali sneers as they burn through time and money in a studio. “Would Becky suddenly wither and die if she interacted on an adult level?”
Bassist Marielle Hell (Agyness Deyn) is exhausted from trying to control their wayward bandmate.
Becky has worn everybody out. There’s her long-suffering manager (Eric Stoltz), in hock trying to prop up his tour–canceling star. Dan Stevens is her abruptly-dumped ex, a DJ whose on-air name was “Dirtbag Danny.”
“Nobody calls me that any more!”
A former rival, Zelda E. Zekiel (Amber Heard) offers the foundering trio a lifeline, the chance to open for her on tour. Becky cannot hide her disdain.
“I’m not your enemy. I never was.”
And there’s Becky’s mother (Virginia Madsen), glimpsed in a flashback when the band was blowing up, still checking in on daughter and granddaughter (Dirtbag Danny has custody).
“What happened to my baby Rebecca? What did I do wrong?”
Perry’s frantically chatty, estrogen-besotted tale takes us through Becky’s final decline, when she is so wired backstage that we fear for the safety of the toddler who’s been brought to visit Mommy, into the studio where Becky’s talent and tone have plainly failed her.
That’s the first half of “Something Her,” which gives us just enough of the band onstage that we can appreciate what this Courtney/Axl self-destroyer is throwing away. She’s uncompromising and would rather die in her own vomit than “sell out.”
Watch Moss’s expression in the studio when manager Howard’s “Next Big Thing,” an act called The Acre Girls (Cara Delevigne, Ashley Benson and Dylan Gelula) show up. They do three-part harmony on their more power-pop version of punk (Green Day), and we’ve heard Becky whisper, then belt through “I Always Flirt with Death” as if it’s not just her song, but her credo.
Moss lets us see a stoned, sleepless woman struggle to hide her disdain for who and what these “kids” are, even as she’s sweet-talking them into becoming her new backing band. Everybody else has quit on her.
Ross has his cast work in streaked, stained makeup or no makeup at all — even model/celebrity-turned actress Delevigne — in the punk-lit opening acts. The milieu is so real we do indeed smell it. The players commit in all of the best ways.
The noise — most of it dialogue — is nerve-fraying.
For the final acts, we see the post-collapse Becky, and the tenterhooks are not about the daughter we wonder if she’ll injure through clumsiness or what her shirtless shaman told her.
“You said the child would be my downfall,” she hisses at Ya-Ema (Eka Darville), a “lit stick of dynamite” hurled into her life.
Becky is transformed, drained. And yet we know that this world she left behind has its pull, and finding her way back to it could be deadly for all involved. Don’t be fooled when she’s at the piano singing Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” to her now seven-year-old daughter. Becky is now the “lit stick of dynamite.”
Ross has made a film of rich if blue language and colorful if archetypal characters, one that dawdles and takes its time too much for its own good.
But the supporting cast is game and Moss is riveting, transformed and transforming before our eyes, and not just in a “rock bod” vs. “mom bod” sense. She never lets “Her Smell” turn boring and her scent is what lingers after the credits have rolled.
MPAA Rating:R for language throughout and some drug use
Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Cara Delevigne, Dan Stevens, Ashley Benson, Virginia Madsen, Eric Stoltz and Amber Heard
Credits: Written and directed by Alex Ross Perry. A Gunpowder & Sky release.
Running time: 2:14
chain smoking punk power trio
“I always flirt with death” whis
Ali is drummer
new record, nothing worked out,
ditched Danny, left the baby with him
You said the child would be my downfall..a lit stick of dynamite
Of COURSE I was good. I always am.
Zelda “She brings negativity”
mercurial, manic, wild mood swings
Anything I can do?
Help her. That’ll help me.
tongue wagging demon
opening for Zelda?
past her peak?
We do rock music. For rock people.
We need a break. Not another tour
used to open for Zelda. You’re one of a kind. I’ll give you that.”
I have an interrupted journey to complete.
I hardly think I’m overreacting. It’s normal reacting.
too antic to be with her little girl
a tripping, trippy vomiting menace to her baby
an artist in free fall
“first and only girl band to ever sell this many records” Lauren
stealing a framed gold record from the label’s office
atonal new “tunes” she’s moping through
I took care of this band, while you took care of yourself…Enjoy yourself. Have fun!4
“a fetid stink in the elevator”
mood changes on a dime
Who plays the drums? Are the rest of you ready to jam? Because if I had to guess, I’m guessing we’re 15 maybe minutes away from pure magic exploding into this room!
Three witches come to my rescue!
Crassie Cassie, Zelda, Dottie
Howard — I trusted you to be alone and you burned down the house
Let’s see what the KIDS are doing!
sunny, more melodic, harmonies darkly sexual
seven years together, months wasted in the studio
Becky lets her disdain and dismay show
and then hides it
This is not a two-a-day two way street, darling.
No, it’s a dead END, darling!
old footage of mom (Madsen) backstage before an early Something She show
Ali — What am I gonna do, quit? Be nothing? I don’t even belong in this world.
Find me when the nightmare’s over Roxie
hours late showing up
Ding dong, the Bitch is Back!
Mom — I thought you were better than this. Deep down, I knew you weren’t.
I’m on my last credit line and you’re on your ninth life
Mari — We don’t GET another chance
spit bubble intimate
documentary crew there to capture it
we don’t see her imbibing
Kill your idols.
Give’em enough rope, and they will do it themselves.
Your level of dedication has been exposed.
Howard “a communicator,” a manager of infinite patience
indulgent therapy of a rock star
Marielle “Mari” coke-snorting breakdown
They’re all bad days nowadays
The Acre Girls another punk trio
peace maker Howard — You’re gonna LOVE them
new act — Cara
hand held camera, intimate documentary editing
I never will NEVER share a stage with you, again.
Danny is father
Alvin Y’Ima, spiritual guide hunk shirtless weird backstage religious rituals, another guru
“visit the other place”
As you know,
Dirtbag Danny — “Nobody calls me that any more.” DJ
“CAn’t believe you’re raising our daughter around a woman named Tiffany
Stevens — How can you let yourself be like this, Becky?
manic and a little unstable
There’s no European tour. I would’ve known if there was.
No YOU’RE a mess.