Tag Archives: Alex Ross Perry

It Ain’t Teen Spirit

Her Smell

by Hope Madden

“Kill your idols.”

“Give them enough rope and they will do it themselves.”

Apt lines from Alex Ross Perry’s new rock and roll meltdown, Her Smell.

You may think you’ve seen “Behind the Music” style self-destruction, but you have never seen anything quite like this.

And how great is that title?!

Writer/director Perry has a soft spot for unlikeable people. That is the most common element running through his work—Color Wheel, Listen Up Philip, Queen of Earth. So it’s no huge shock that he hasn’t made a profitable film yet. That’s a tough sell: come spend 90 minutes—or in the case of Her Smell, 144 minutes—with someone you’ll have a tough time tolerating.

Which is not to say Perry makes bad movies. He makes really good movies, they just try your patience. Her Smell has a couple of things going for it, though.

First of all, there’s train wreck appeal. Becky Something (a ferocious Elisabeth Moss) is so outrageously tough to love that you cannot look away from the downward spiral Perry dares you to witness.

The second and most important strength is Moss’s stellar turn as Something, a rocker facing the inevitable consequence of drug abuse, pathological insecurity and the shifting dynamics of the music world.

The film itself is a dizzying, self-indulgent mess, which only seems appropriate. Sean Price Williams’s restless camera captures it all. All of it. All all all. And Moss’s toxic, mascara-smeared maniac is such a loathsome explosion, you almost wish rock bottom would come, already.

Uncharacteristic of the filmmaker, though, regret and redemption color the film’s second half. It’s here that Moss’s rawness and the deeply felt character work from her supporting cast (an especially wonderful Agyness Deyn, in particular) repay you for the abuse you’ve taken for more than an hour. 

The music itself—much of it, anyway—is the film’s real weakness. But Moss, who has more than proven her mettle in basically every role she’s ever taken, is more than fearless here. She is bare, ugly authenticity and there is something transcendent about sticking it out with her.

Sweeter Than Hunny

Christopher Robin

by George Wolf

Pooh! Who doesn’t love him?

Winnie T. Pooh and the gang from the Hundred Acre Wood have endured for decades, and now the second Pooh film is less than twelve months brings all the furry friends to live-action life.

Last year’s Goodbye, Christopher Robin was a bittersweet and uneven origin story, focusing on the inspirations for A.A. Milne’s Pooh tales.

Christopher Robin drops both the goodbye and the bitter in becoming a grown-up fantasyland with an easily digestible, greeting card-ready sentimentality.

Mr. Robin (Ewan McGregor, charming as always) has put the Hundred Acre Wood long behind him, with a wife (Hayley Atwell), a young daughter (Bronte Carmichael – great name!) and a working-class job as an efficiency expert at a London luggage company.

He’s lost sight of the joy in life, and when a crisis at work means Christopher will miss another weekend family getaway, fate intervenes with a much-needed Pooh crew reunion.

The CGI effects that bring the animals to life are wonderful, the voice work  (including Brad Garrett, Toby Jones, Sophie Okonedo, Dr. Who‘s Peter Capaldi and voice acting veteran Jim Cummings) is spot on, the humor warm and the message fuzzy.

What’s missing is depth. There’s no real attempt to find any, and that’s a bit surprising with the filmmaking talent involved.

The director is Marc Forster, and the writing team includes Tom McCarthy and Alex Ross Perry. Between them, those three have some serious depth on their resumes, including Spotlight, Up, Listen Up Phillip, Queen of Earth, Monster’s Ball, Stranger Than Fiction, The Kite Runner and more.

The result is similar to David Lowery’s live-action take on Pete’s Dragon two years ago, where a filmmaker skilled at nuance within serious themes took on a children’s classic and struggled with when to stop simplifying.

Christopher Robin is sweeter than the “hunny” jars Pooh dives into, but nearly as empty as he leaves them. In trying to showcase the need for simple wonders, the film settles awkwardly between a child’s fable and wistful remembrances from grandparents.

There’s plenty to like, but little to love.


Royal Pains

Queen of Earth

by George Wolf

Don’t bother trying to guess where Queen of Earth might be going, you’ll miss the beauty of getting there.

It’s a wildly enigmatic take on the dynamics of female friendship, ambitiously (and surprisingly?) told by writer/director Alex Ross Perry, who laces the character studies with descents into madness and subversive humor.

Catherine (Elisabeth Moss) is reeling from a traumatic breakup that hit not long after her father’s death. Her longtime friend Virginia (Katherine Waterston) offers the family lake house for some girl time, much like their getaway a year earlier when it was Virginia who was suffering.

As the women meet at the picturesque setting, it is clear they have grown apart from their days as BFFs, and Perry is no hurry to tell you why. Catherine’s ever-present sketch pad is an apt metaphor for the narrative structure at work here. Perry utilizes extreme closeups, shaky cameras, out of focus shots and quick fades to provide beautiful glimpses into a complicated relationship.

Slowly, the often combative dialogue and the out of sequence flashbacks provide some possible answers, even as more questions are raised. With a Gothic soundtrack and a constant sheen of despair, you begin to wonder if Perry’s vision will ultimately include a murderous rampage. 

But that would be too easy, and a betrayal of all that’s been building. Perry presents a perceptive tableau of emotions, all driven home to perfection through wonderful performances from his leads. Moss is downright electric, rolling through a spectrum of emotional outbursts and withdrawn silences with an authenticity that leaves you nervous to look away. Waterston may have the more “straight woman” role, but she gives Virginia a steely resolve that grounds the film, and invites curiosity into her side of this story.

Perry (The Color Wheel, Listen Up Philip) makes the comedy less overt and the psychological warfare more pointed this time out, but his familiar elements remain. Queen of Earth brings unlikeable characters who struggle with alienation, disenchantment and dangerous depression, and leaves you glad you didn’t pass on the chance to spend time with them.