Thank You For Letting Me Be Who I Am: A Love Letter to Her Smell (2018)
I will forever mark the finest moment of my community college career as the day I skipped anthropology class to catch Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell on the big screen. In my mind, movies about girls in bands tend to be more emotionally fulfilling than learning about how ancient civilizations gathered food (sorry), so I impulsively bolted to the bus stop with 15 minutes to make it to the 1PM showing. Out of breath from weaving through downtown Santa Monica crowds with a heavy backpack in tow, I was one of three people in that tiny arthouse theater that afternoon.
Upon witnessing Something She (Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss), Marielle Hell (Agyness Deyn), and Ali van der Wolff (Gayle Rankin)) launch into an electrifying rendition of The Only Ones’ power-pop anthem “Another Girl, Another Planet” in their glittering outfits and sweat-smudged makeup, I knew I’d made the right choice ditching class. It was the perfect opening sequence to a film that would leave me feeling absolutely enthralled by every minute of it — the first movie I’d seen in a long time that had felt like it was made just for me.
It’s important to note that, in the world of Her Smell, Something She were once riot grrrl royalty, selling out arenas and gracing the covers of magazines. But their demise comes at the hands of Becky Something, the band’s explosive frontwoman. Becky is a wreck. She’s constantly drugged up, aggressive, and difficult to work with, but so are dozens of male musicians that manage to have lasting careers. She pushes away her family and her once tight-knit bandmates, whom she figures are all trying to sabotage her success in one way or another. When Something She inevitably breaks up, unable to complete their third album, Becky enlists the help of pop-punk prodigies The Akergirls (Roxie Rotten (Ashley Benson), Dottie O.Z. (Dylan Gelula), and Cassie Crassie (Cara Delevigne)) to do it her way. But Becky’s devotees eventually surpass her own fame, and she is reduced to their opening act. Incapable of handling being knocked off her pedestal, Becky’s antics reach a disastrous breaking point.
Yet sometime later, we find out that Becky has been sober for a year. She lives alone in a house by the woods and has somewhat recouped her relationship with her daughter and ex-husband. Her former bandmates are doing well. Becky’s realization of how terrible she was to the people who were only trying to help her all along conveniently fits into your typical Music Movie Narrative, but watching Her Smell, I understand the depth of Becky’s pain. She attempts to reinvent herself to make up for all the times she’s been wronged in the past, rejecting the idea of depending on others, for she believes that the only person who can’t let her down is herself. Sometimes the hardest thing a person can do is accept the help others want to give them, yet that’s exactly what Becky manages to do. She asks for forgiveness and manages to open up again.
Her Smell culminates with Something She’s first performance together in four years. Becky is visibly nervous — perhaps on the verge of giving up again — but everyone is there to support her. Backstage after the show, the crowd of fans is heard calling for an encore. But just like that, surrounded by friends and family and holding her daughter in her arms, Becky decides that chapter of her life is over.
A common question that pops up in interviews I’ve read with Alex Ross Perry and Elisabeth Moss is if Becky is based on anyone in particular. I think they intend to allude to a certain bleach-blonde kinderwhore of the 1990s, but both seem to be too afraid to admit that. The truth is that people are afraid of loud, outspoken women! Female rock stars are often shunned or given less credit than their male counterparts, so I like to think that this movie gives some well-deserved humanity to a character that could have been so easily disgraced in the annals of music history.
Perhaps my favorite thing about Her Smell, however, is the effort that was put into making you believe that Something She was a real band in the 90s. This is emphasized through the home video footage intercut between scenes, the prolonged shaky-cam backstage quarrels, and the Something She/Akergirls music videos that are for some reason not included in the movie (check those out on YouTube!). An obvious tribute to bands like Bikini Kill and Hole, though, is the end credits sequence that showcases fake album covers for each actor in the movie. They are so cool! Here are some of my favorites, complete with record store hype stickers and all: