I put off watching this for a long time because I heard it was really horrible—in a deliberate way, as in it’s intentionally supposed to be a trial to watch this very unpleasant person. And she IS a very unpleasant person, she’s the Worst, but this movie is not at all! It was horrible to watch and yet I totally enjoyed watching it? I’m still trying to figure out how that works.
Elisabeth Moss, rabid, spiraling, plays musician Becky Something, the chaotic and vicious lead of the fictional ’90s punk band Something She. The movie begins with the group starting to nose-dive toward the rocks, and I’ll just tell ya, it smashes right onto them, and it’s carnage. But the movie is told in five distinct acts over several years, and, wisely I think, it spends the last two looking at the debris and trying to figure out if there’s a way to put yourself back together again.
I love this five act structure, it’s really neat. Each act proceeds in basically real-time, pivotal 25 minute chunks of these people’s lives. The acts are separated in the timeline by anywhere from a few months to a few years, and in the movie by tiny, grainy, brief little home videos of the band sloppily incandescent at the very beginning of their rise to fame. But. But. I did say 25 minutes, and five of them. This movie is two hours and ten minutes long, and you very much do feel it, to the point that in the latter half it started to take me out of it. You don’t want that! Her Smell needs to cut 25 minutes—not one of the acts, I want all of those, but about five minutes from each of them, maybe a little more here a little less there, but get it down to one hour 45. Totally doable. The argument for why it should keep this length is probably so that you really feel these scenes, really suffer, but oho do not worry, you still will! The content is…that potent.
But that it’s overlong to its detriment is pretty much my sole ding here. Otherwise, I loved this. All the acting is killer, not only Elisabeth Moss, who is just….terrifying. I wasn’t familiar with Agyness Deyn but she was fantastically compelling as the band’s willowy British lesbian Marielle Hell (yess), and the third member is Gayle Rankin, Sheila the Wolf Girl from GLOW, whom I was so excited to see! She’s such a grounded performer, just love her. Her character Ali van der Wolff (aah! jokes) had a sweet relationship with Dan Stevens, Becky’s gloomy frustrated DJ ex (husband?) also named Danny, which just confused me right now when I was writing this. In all the horribleness it was nice to get few little moments of mutual support between two people who have bonded in adversity—the adversity being the deadly electrical storm that is Becky.
The movie might lean a little too hard on its use of Becky gently singing a song alone & acoustic to remind us that she is indeed a talented and magnetic artist, but Elisabeth Moss crushes these. Still I know I’d cut one of them from Act 4 first thing. NOT the song she sings for her daughter though, because that part is stunning, and also her little joke at the beginning of it made me laugh so hard and so long that I had to pause the movie. I’m pretty sure it was one of those moments where you’ve finally cracked from all the tension and it just all comes out in a rush of laughter. Cathartic.
Anyway yeah these scenes are agonizing but I think this is a really good movie.