Food: Prioritizing Christmas pop-ups around the city this week, my friend and I decided to try the “Après Arlo at Soho Hotel” which is the seasonally decorated bar on the rooftop of the hotel. Laden with colorful Christmas trees, retro toys and garland, it has a fun, escapist feel – and also incredibly comfortable bar chairs. I tried their lemonade which was really refreshing, and we split the Prosciutto pizza and the hummus dish. The pizza was stellar and the hummus (with baba ghanoush) was a fine accompaniment (but if you only go for one, I recommend the pizza).
Film: “Her Smell” is an invigorating, in-your-face telling of a former front woman of a band called Something She who is, like the tasmanian devil, rampages through her life causing destruction everywhere she goes and falls into a nasty hole of her own addiction. Directed by Alex Ross Perry, who is known for creating contentious films previously, delivers his supposedly darkest yet. It is visceral, overwhelming and chaotic.
Presented in a collection of five parts, each one long scene, the film begins with a particularly reckless night backstage after one of the punk rock bands shows. Our lead, excitable Becky Something (Elizabeth Moss at her most unhinged) flails around aggressively with her band mates, Marielle Hell and Ali van der Wolff (respectively, Agyness Deyn and GLOW’s Gayle Rankin). It is jarring and exasperating to sit through right off the bat, as all of her friends and family try to calm her down and the situation inevitably continues to escalate. Her ex, another musician, Danny (Dan Stevens), arrives with their shared infant daughter, and while holding her, Becky tumbles to the ground, then throws up on herself.
In the second scene, Something She loafs around the studio, unsuccessfully trying to come up with another album, led by their distressed manager Howard Goodman (Eric Stoltz). Becky continues to act belligerently, behaving with childlike rudeness and bumptious rambling. She is obnoxiously impolite to another band that clearly had looked up to her, Akergirls (Cara Delevingne, Ashley Benson, and Dylan Gelula). The entire sequence at this point feels like an endurance test for audiences. Becky is cringe-worthy and the jumbled filmmaking style is so personal, so fervent and unembellished, it feels like watching something you know you shouldn’t be seeing.
If you have the fortitude to make it to the third vignette, you will find yourself, again, backstage at a show. Members of Something She and Akergirls trail in anxiously, mumbling complaints about the fact that Becky has yet to make an appearance. Becky’s mother (Virginia Madsen) wears mortification and self-consciousness well, asking at times what she might have done wrong. Becky, at this point in the film, is nearly deranged.
Viewers have had no time with her in any other state – except for a few interspersed flashback videos (which are hardly redeemable). It is impossible to empathize with her. However, “Her Smell” works like a strange, kaleidoscope-tunneled view into one persons pervasive affect on everyone in her life. With little information about the surrounding characters, they give us something to hold onto, and therefore, we do empathize with them. As they are forced to wade through this tempest, we are too.
The final two acts of the movie feel like a consolation prize which we reluctantly accept. Stripped bare from the mask that her addiction allowed her to hide behind, we finally see Becky as a person. Sheepish and apprehensive, she embarks on the day to day task of remaining sober. The film speaks softly about redemption. It is not an enjoyable piece, but it feels worth the agonizing first half by the time it ends. “Her Smell” is fully held together by the magnetic and fully engaged performance by Elizabeth Moss.
Also, I realize this is not the point, but can we start a petition to get Paul Thomas Anderson to make a really vibrant and boozy spin off about Akergirls?