By Jack Dignan
A lot of people are really going to hate this movie. It’s inevitable. Even at the TIFF screening I attended, the film garnished several walkouts and scoffs of disgust. People who managed to sit through the whole thing came out bewildered and enraged, unable to contain their passionate hatred towards Alex Ross Perry’s latest, Her Smell. And I totally get it. Its repugnant, self loathing style and near irredeemable protagonist make this an inaccessible experience for many of its viewers, but at the same time, there’s so much here that’s right up my alley.
For the select few that will really levitate towards what this film has to offer, it’s one of the most polarizing, provocative and masterful films of the year. You have not experienced a movie like this before. Structured like a Shakespearean tragedy and executed like a cerebral nightmare, Her Smell is one of the vilest, most uncomfortable and hallucinogenic dreams I’ve ever been a part of, but it had me hooked all the way from the opening shot. You’re probably going to hate this movie, and that’s okay because I genuinely am excited for the debates it’s going to stir.
Elisabeth Moss, still reeling off of the success of The Handmaid’s Tale, is at the height of her career with a terrifying and unrelenting performance as Becky Something, a punk rock singer struggling to accept that her career isn’t what it once was. She’s a mess. Her fellow musicians hate her, her ex-husband (Dan Stevens) is struggling to get her help in raising their child, and she’s about half a drink away from total internal shutdown. Through this film, we witness her plummet to her absolute low in a series of mini-events scattered over several years, all building towards a finale that’ll knock you right in the teeth.
Moss’ obscene performance brings new life to the word “crazy,” as her mind races from ten different things at once, all while her “loved ones” trail behind desperately trying to get her back on track. But can a person be too far-gone for redemption? Expect to see fleeting, strange, but welcomed appearances from Cara Delevingne, Amber Heard and Eric Stoltz, amongst others. Perry and cinematographer Sean Price Williams (Good Time) tell their story through a series of unbroken long shots and neon red lighting, which only elevates the immersive-ness and genuine discomfort held within every frame. Add to that one hell of a score from Keegan DeWitt and you’ve got an experience unlike any other.
However, as the film progresses, it slowly morphs from a nightmare into a calm, meditative think piece. One of its stories is a somber, self-reflective moment of serenity, which was certainly a jarring decision, but is all tied together in the film’s final moments. It’s satisfying in the most unconventional of ways. Perry’s script stays true to what he set out to do, and while 135 minutes may feel like a long time to remain in such a harrowing experience, it’s one I’ve struggled to get out of my head in the weeks since leaving the theatre, which is a further testament to the power of this movie.
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