Identity masking may be at the heart of Her Smell, a sprawling drama starring Elisabeth Moss (Us) and directed by Alex Ross Perry, her frequent collaborator.
The title may be apropos for those willing to endure this ugly, often toxic depiction inspired by Shakespeare and a Guns N’ Roses reunion tour with an onslaught of chaos before a more ruminative turnabout. The Grrrls trio (Something She) were something before its lead singer went off the rails.
Moss’s alienating Becky Something epitomizes 1990s grunge rock performers like Courtney Love, evincing a rawness of self-destruction from backstage antics (with some voodoo) to a recording studio to a pre-concert clash with the camera never letting up for a long time (like the protagonist’s vicious streaks).
But, for all of the discomfiting tumult Perry has a way of making it all like an accident that is hard to turn away from. As uneven and arcane as it may seem to an increasingly jaded on-looker. The typical rise-and-fall arc isn’t on display; more like the beginning of the end as curiosity may exist about those closest to Becky find it hard to give up on her. Is the intersection of life and art that resonant here? Well, Moss’s venomous virulence plays to what stirs interest in her passions and intransigence.
Populating the story are rivals like those played by Amber Heard (embroiled in much off-screen turmoil with former spouse Johnny Depp), a manager (Eric Stoltz), a mother (Virginia Madsen of Joy, The Haunting in Connecticut); as well as Dan Stevens as her estranged beau who brings her young daughter to the green room. The lesser-known Agyness Deyn is a fine foil to Moss as band-mate Marielle Hell, equally exasperated but empathetic to her lunatic front-woman. A poignancy is felt when Becky is at the piano performing Bryan Adams’s ‘Heaven’ next to her daughter that offers a welcome relief from most of the Salvo in Moss’s tour de force if you can stand Her Smell.