Moss is onscreen for almost the entirety of Her Smell, and her grandiose work justifies all that focus. She is hyper-literate in her drug hazes, rattling off praise and plans and recriminations while stalking between dressing rooms like she’s back on an Aaron Sorkin show. There’s very little Peggy Olsen or Offred here, as Becky Something is an over-the-top mass of sneers and facial contortions. This part of Her Smell, effectively recreating the stressful feeling of a movie like mother!, is good but too hostile to be great. Her Smell, and Moss in turn, is elevated when it shows a previously unseen side of Becky, the one that haunts a lonely country home after a stint in rehab. We see plenty of her sweaty magnetism on stage, but no drugs and a lot of public embarrassment have neutered her. Moss oozes vulnerability here, making it impossible to not root for a comeback for Becky Something. The film’s best scene, far away from raucous rock star extremity, is a single take of her and her daughter at the piano, plinking out a version of Bryan Adams’ Heaven as Becky struggles to maintain her composure. It’s a breathtaking scene that is potent enough to work stripped of context, but within the larger scope of Her Smell, it single-handedly makes the film.
Her Smell not only gives bottomless humanity to its protagonist, it also redeems Cara Delevingne, an actor I had dismissed after a dead-eyed performance in Valerian. Delevingne plays a third of a band that lives happily in the shadow of Something She, oblivious to their conflicts and honored to be in the same room as their rock idols. She melts into a physically unflattering role, becoming unrecognizable and wholly credible as a short-haired punk rocker. Her camaraderie with bandmates played by Dylan Gelula and Ashley Benson is miles ahead of what she shared with Valerian co-star Dane DeHaan, and her band, the youthful Akergirls, is much more than a group of usurpers or the next big thing. There’s no cattiness or jealousy. Becky generates so much conflict on her own that the generation behind her doesn’t need to add to it. Instead, the Akergirls and Delevingne provide a fond look back at what Something She might’ve once had, and are now so joyful at their current station that they serve as a musical eden that Becky can hopefully get back to.
Her Smell provides a forum for a great actor and an amusement park where Perry can take the viewer on a ride from stress and tension to quiet beauty and back again. This is a female anti-hero story that loves its characters and fears for them, unable to look away when they’re being unlikable or emotionally naked. Moss may well give the performance of 2019 here, and in her greatest accomplishment yet, she makes this viewer think twice before dismissing Courtney Love or a Courtney Love type. Maybe she went home from that roast and performed a heartfelt cover for her daughter. A-