starring Elisabeth Moss, Cara Delevingne, Dan Stevens, Amber Heard
written and directed by Alex Ross Perry
by Walter Chaw
"When I needed it, no one ever put a hand on my back and told me it was gonna be alright."
This is Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss) on stage at a performance by her band, Something She, and she's two hours late, as it happens--as is her habit and her custom. All she does is inflict pain, her mother (Virginia Madsen) tells her; Becky, a black vortex of drama, tells her mom to lay off the drama. It's a practice of narcissists to project their toxic behaviour on the people around them, but Becky, who acts very badly indeed, isn't the only bad actor. Her mom has a manila envelope full of something Becky's long-absent father wants Becky to see and the mother bringing it to her daughter at this moment, knowing her daughter is explosively unstable, is a form of narcissism, too. It's the person in your life who wants you to process your experience in the same way they process theirs--emotional bullies engaged in the tyranny of the weak. Becky's bandmates are at once enablers of her behaviour and disdainful of it. Her ex, former DJ and now long-suffering single-dad Danny (Dan Stevens), brings his and Becky's toddler around for a visit with his new young girlfriend (Hannah Gross) in tow, because that's just a selfish, terrible idea, too. The first third of Alex Ross Perry's Her Smell is a collision of flawed people self-medicating, self-deluding, doing their best on the fly in the middle of a hurricane of fame and other people's expectations and making the worst possible decisions. It's claustrophobic to the point of panic attack, and Perry, with DP Sean Price Williams, composer Keegan DeWitt, and editor Robert Greene, beautifully orchestrates the walls crashing in. It's relentless and suffocating. And if you're wired a particular way, it's also uncomfortably familiar.