'Her Smell' review: Elisabeth Moss is a powerhouse in Alex Ross Perry's excruciating drama | amNewYork

‘Her Smell’ review: Elisabeth Moss is a powerhouse in Alex Ross Perry’s excruciating drama

Elisabeth Moss stars in "Her Smell." Photo Credit: Gunpowder & Sky / Donald Stahl
Elisabeth Moss stars in "Her Smell."
Elisabeth Moss stars in "Her Smell." Photo Credit: Getty Images / Stephanie Keith

‘Her Smell’

Directed by Alex Ross Perry

Starring Elisabeth Moss, Cara Delevingne, Dan Stevens

Rated R

"Her Smell" is a deeply unpleasant experience, a grueling and abrasive journey alongside a rock star in the throes of a full-on emotional breakdown.

Of course, that the 135-minute movie is difficult to endure means writer-director Alex Ross Perry has achieved his primary aim: embedding his audience in the thick of the extraordinary turmoil experienced by the punk rocker Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss), who comes apart in fantastic, frenzied fashion and leaves an enormous amount of emotional wreckage in her wake.

As embodied by Moss, who again proves that she’s among the most essential actors of her generation, Becky storms through bandmates, friends and family members (played by everyone from Amber Heard to Dan Stevens and Eric Stoltz). She rants and raves and menaces, threatening everyone around her in a series of extended scenes set backstage, at the recording studio and elsewhere.

Captured largely in close-ups, with an intrusive handheld camera that refuses to shield the audience from one iota of this horror show, the picture depends on Moss to complicate things and add a degree of empathy that’s not inherently there on the surface. With a different actor, this might have become so excruciating that it would be unendurable.

Somewhere within the frenzy of physical and verbal outbursts, though, Moss taps into the deep, harrowing pain that animates the character. If there’s no easy explanation for how things have gotten this bad, Moss perfects a look of vacant terror and affects a wounded quality that transforms this display of on-screen terror into a giant howl of despair.

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