There are some Oscar-worthy performances that I know, empirically, never had a chance to win. Take, for example Rebecca Hall’s work in Christine a few years ago. She’s amazing in that film. She definitely should have been nominated for Best Actress. I knew she wouldn’t though. It’s not the kind of work, or film, that gets acknowledged by the Academy. I have found this year’s equivalent, and it’s Elizabeth Moss’ performance in Her Smell.
To be fair, I have only just seen this film. I had not seen it prior to the nominations, so I couldn’t stump for it. I was looking forward to seeing it, but things get away from you, you miss a movie in theaters (especially a movie that barely got to be in theaters at all), and then you just wait until, say, it’s on HBO. That’s where Her Smell is right now. You should definitely watch it if you want to see a strong, if polarizing performance.
Moss, and this movie, are going to turn some people off. It plays like a horror film in many ways, at least for the first three-fourths of it or so. The erstwhile Mad Men star plays Becky Something, the frontwoman of a grunge-style band called Something She. It feels like, to me, she’s supposed to be Courtney Love if she had Kurt Cobain’s career. When the movie begins, the glory days of Something She are in the past, in part because Becky has completely fallen apart as a human being, and she’s dragging everybody else down with her.
Becky is clearly abusing drugs and alcohol, and abusing everybody around her. Her bandmates, her ex-husband who is the father of her kid, her mom, an up-and-coming band who worship her, everybody. And just to be clear, this is not a movie about a trainwreck that gives you some distance or makes it fun. Her Smellis brutal. It can be funny, but it’s absolutely brutal. Director Alex Ross Perry, and Moss, pull no punches. You are in the muck, in the chaos, and Becky is truly awful. She’s not fun movie character awful. She’s genuinely insidious.
This is an incredibly difficult tightrope to walk. Some people are going to find Becky to be too much, and I totally get it. Moss’ performance was on the right side of the line for me, though. I know that’s a weird metaphor to use right after the tightrope one, but I digress. She is so compelling. She embodies the awfulness in this gritty, visceral way. Moss is great through every step of Becky’s journey, as she’s getting worse, and then as she starts to get better. It’s one of the best performances I’ve seen all year. If I was giving out Best Actress, I would give it to her. Or maybe Ana de Armas.
Of course, de Armas isn’t nominated, and neither is Moss. This is actually a pretty lackluster year of nominees for Best Actress in terms of film and performance, and Renee Zellweger is expected to win for a Judy Garland biopic nobody really remembers. Now there’s a movie about a musician with substance abuse issues that isn’t going to make you wallow in it. It’s more approachable than what Moss did. It’s also not nearly as gripping. Moss has been robbed. I shudder to think what Becky Something would do to anybody who snubbed her.