Metal My Movie - Her Smell

Metal My Movie: Her Smell (Dir. Alex Ross Perry
Content warning // mentions of self-harm
We are back for the month of March with some more films to get the Metal My Movie treatment they need. The first film has to be one of my favourite films from last year, as if it were an infinite tape loop. The rock drama Her Smell (a 2019 release from Director Alex Ross Perry) follows the downfall of rockstar Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss), singer of the band Something She (Agyness Deyn, Gayle Rankin). Told in a series of act vignettes/acts similar to the VH1 Behind The Music segments, we get a glimpse both of her demise and the potential she held in the past. Unlike many films that start out with the highs of the band or musician before the downfall, we only get minute snippets of those moments inter-spliced between vignettes. As a rockstar musician personified, Becky struggles with addiction, life and fame, all while trying to remain contemporary in the world of rock music. If we take a look at the character arc of Becky Something over the course of the vignettes and against the sound design of the film, Her Smell is the ultimate rockstar film that deserves the metal my movie treatment. 
The first vignette sees the band Something She finishing an encore performance - a cover of "Another Girl, Another Planet" by The Only Ones. We are then taken backstage, where director Alex Ross Perry sets up the scene to play out as a one shot long take with minimal edits to highlight the self-destructive nature of Becky Something. Elisabeth Moss brings high octane energy to a character fueled by the risky lifestyle of drugs and alcohol, which causes her demeanour to rapidly shift between calm and erratic. We see Becky hold her infant daughter Tama before beginning a spiritual ceremony with her shamans in the next room. It is quickly interrupted by her ex-husband Danny (Dan Stevens) and his wife Tiffany (Hannah Gross) walking in to discover a picture of Tiffany and a bracelet of hers being used in the ritual. A shaman reveals the ritual is an attempt to “read” her aura before permitting her to be around Tama. As observers express concern for Becky’s poor career choices and negligent care of her daughter, she reacts aggressively and sinks further into an inebriated state; eventually collapsing unresponsive on the floor. The sound design used in the background to this scene is interesting, as we can still hear the crowd of the concert alongside an erratic tape loop of drum-guitar sounds similar to the distortion found in The Beatles Revolution Number 9. 
The second vignette is a studio session some months later, where Becky’s erratic behaviour and lack of commitment to the band continues to spiral. After bandmates Ali (Gayle Rankin) and Mari (Agyness Deyn) reach a breaking point, Ali quits and Mari storms out, signaling the dismantlement of the band. Upon returning to the studio, we see it occupied by Akergirls, a much younger band. The members (Cara Delevingne, Ashley Benson, and Dylan Gelula) view Something She as their idols and are awestruck. Becky quickly takes a shine to the group, enthusiastically offering them a chance to work together. While recording some acoustic tracks, Becky’s unpredictable moods are matched by the sound design of the same drum-guitar tape loop from the previous vignette.
The third vignette takes place backstage at a small venue. Becky is set to open for Akergirls, but she is nowhere to be found. Danny informs Becky’s mother (Virginia Madsen) that he has legal papers for her to sign; as does Ali, who has returned as Something She’s guitarist. Everyone in the room, including Becky’s manager Howard Goodman (Eric Stoltz) is wondering whether she will show up. Becky finally arrives with a camera crew in tow and her shaman following her every move. Summoning Akergirls into a bizarrely executed “sacred circle for a spiritual cleanse” as footage for a documentary, Becky finally acknowledges the implications of the night being her last chance for redemption. The sound design becomes increasingly frenzied and skittish as her downward spiral continues. She physically attacks Ali and threatens her with a broken beer bottle before using the bottle to self-mutilate her arm. After breaking past venue security to rush on stage, Becky collapses into the crowd amidst chants of her name overlapping with the familiar drum-guitar tape loop. The scene ends with distorted guitar feedback cutting out as Becky is carried away by security.
The start of the fourth vignette is a few months later at a country home illuminated in white, contrasting with the dark neon light of backstage. We see Becky sitting at a table with fresh fruit and making herself tea as she marks her calendar, showing a change in her lifestyle. Danny arrives with Tama, saying he still needs Becky to sign the papers. During a great musical moment in the film, Becky sits with Tama at the piano and plays a stripped-down version of the rock ballad "Heaven" by Bryan Adams. She also reunites with Mari, who is now sober as well. The two of them go over some of Becky’s new compositions, which are much more tender and subdued compared to the heavy punk rock songs of the past. Becky starts talking about how her former life almost killed her and she is not leaving the country home because she feels she will die if she does. Tama returns asking Becky to play outside to which Becky reluctantly agrees. As she steps into the sun, the sound design backdrop consists of hard electric guitar serving as a way of calling her back into her former life.
The final vignette can be viewed as a two-path road that Becky must choose between. Becky has gone through recovery and is now level-headed and clear minded. When reuniting with Something She and The Akergirls to perform at an event for Howard’s record label, Becky makes amends with those who she has wronged in the past. Seen struggling with temptation brought on by offers of drugs and alcohol from a group gathered in a dark room lit by neon lights, she rejects them and walks away. The sound design in this moment is more of a tape loop that sounds like a Brian Eno song alongside the crowd at the concert. Thought to have disappeared again before the set starts, a last-minute scramble to find Becky leads her bandmates to discover her waiting to go onstage. Becky surprises the crowd by inviting the members of Akergirls to join Something She on stage. She also invites Zelda (Amber Heard), another artist that she shares a negative history with, to come up. After witnessing this, the crowd dissolves into chanting Becky’s name. When the song ends, she goes offstage having redeemed herself. She then decides that this is the end of her career for now, even though we as an audience hope that is not the case for this artist redemption story.
In my opinion, there is no doubt that Her Smell is the ultimate rockstar redemption movie, most of which is due to Elisabeth Moss’s great performance through Becky Something’s character arc. Most stories in this vein follow a journey beginning with a high, leading into a downfall and ultimately a triumphant return. Director Alex Ross Perry took a boldly ambitious approach by crafting a series of vignettes following a self-destructive rockstar at rock bottom then moving back up towards redemption and a return to the stage, although it is unknown if she will continue after her redemption gig. Though repetitive, the film’s sound design allows audiences a glimpse into Becky’s mindset; an option that rock movies sometimes fail to capture. Something She may not be a metal band, but the similarities to the genre that they exude through their raw punk rock energy makes Her Smell the ultimate movie pick to get the Metal My Movie treatment.
Next week, we take a trip to director Richard Kelly’s suburbia to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of Donnie Darko getting the Metal My Movie treatment. Got a movie you feel should get the Metal My Movie treatment? E-mail us to let us know. 
Remi and Danny host At The Movies, which can be heard every Tuesday morning from 8:00 - 9:00AM. Tune in for discussions about movies, soundtracks, and iconic film scores. At The Movies also covers film festivals that are located in Montreal.