A Faithful Man
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A Faithful Man

World premieres x3, appraised in greater haste (and mercifully smaller word counts) than usual, starting with this morning’s viewing. I woke up to a slew of tweets saying that the first half of Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell is an impossibly testing experience that dares Mara audiences to walk out; now that I’ve seen it, it appears people have a remarkably low tolerance for abrasion. Five real-time scenes tracking the disastrous, inevitable rock bottom and sort-of rebirth of ’90s riot/it-grrl-turned-serious-hot-mess Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss), Her Smell strays noticeably outside of ARP’s normal comfort zone, in which people are reflexively, casually bruising and vicious to each other, superficially buttressing their uncalled-for hostility with an arsenal of choice words. There’s certainly plenty of that in the first three scenes of Her Smell, which track Becky at the moment of her absolutely final implosion (first before a show, next in the recording studio, and finally prior to a performance that doesn’t come off). Dialogue does not emerge immediately, the soundtrack is loaded with non-diegetic sounds amplifying the unrest, and Sean Price Williams’ camera is mobile and fluid in ways that Perry’s last few films, mostly visually locked-down, were not. When people do start talking, yes, there’s a lot of dazzlingly mean put-downs: we haven’t strayed completely off the reservation, but the manic energy and formal twitchiness is new.

The fourth scene represents a big risk; once Becky’s The School definitively torpedoed her career, it’s time for sobriety and a retreat to her countryside house. This segment is self-consciously quiet, placing all its emotional eggs in the basket of having Becky sing not one, but two, songs in full, where all her sublimated emotions of regret and reckoning come out. Watching this unfold is not as emotional as it seems to be intended; it’s fascinating to watch ARP try to make a scene categorically unlike anything else in his work, and I’m all about risk-taking, but I’m not sure it comes off. (That said, big ups to Moss — whose Woman Under the Influence show this entirely is, and who absolutely nails it — for playing the piano herself, in medium-shot, the first time I’ve seen someone not fake it since Rooney Mara in Carol.) But everything snaps into focus in the final segment; I had kind of checked out and assumed the first half would be all that worked for me, but in its final moments Her Smell becomes a totally emotional experience in a way I didn’t see coming. Substance abuse is tough, sobriety is harder, and all hard-won victories have to be questioned; still, one moment of not-fucking-up is always to be treasured, even if it’s no guarantee that the course will be stayed going forward. In short: I liked the movie, and didn’t find it nearly as trying as its quickly-developing reputation would suggest. (Also, opening your movie with a cover of the Only Ones’ “Another Girl, Another Planet” is an excellent way to immediately get on my good side. I’m easy sometimes.)

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Genre: ComedyDrama

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Duration: 75 min

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A Faithful Man