Hit Record (2020)

Film protagonist, Shug (Cvitanic), has a moment midway through that, up to that point, proved more compelling than scores of previous footage of her futility breaking into music. Sadly for her, it involved a petty argument with her friend-manager laying the ground rules for staying in her trailer home after the fact, instead of some artistic merit or an arresting charisma. Shug, a wannabe pop star, is not homeless, merely an Oklahoma high school senior rebelling against her pastor-father’s disapproval of her career aspirations, skimpy apparel and flaky attitude regarding commitments; quintessential preoccupations for most teenage girls. Worse yet, she wasn’t kicked out, rather, she kicked herself out in a self-fulfilling meltdown directed at her father. That scene unfolds with the classic anti-authoritarian fervor embodied in punk rock ethos—and Shug has her diva bona fides in spades—except there is no modicum of stage presence or actual singing ability to go along with the act.

Ethan Cvitanic’s debut is a low-budget comedy delivered in a mock documentary manner and, considering its subject is an unknown, he employs the necessary cinematography and story-building to fluff up the character. The film is a study in self-delusion, and the naiveté and cluelessness that rouse and foment said deceptions. A tone-deaf twit with lots of heart and no quit—a reality plain for all but for a few, if anyone—means she will keep on undeterred, often, to comedic effect and no real detriment. Her endeavors are whimsical and fruitless, and see her experimenting with a multitude of genres in search of a hit record and all that eludes her. Fame, recognition, and approval are presumably what she is seeking, though inklings that the idea of self-identifying as a musical genius being the aim, instead, grow more credible. That line remains blurry and difficult to discern at first (the film is an abbreviated and re-watchable 75-minute affair) so blink at your own peril.

There is no method to the madness of holding auditions with skill-deficient rappers, appointing a pool-cleaning BFF as her manager with a $10,000 advance, then reaping disillusionment from naysayers and collaborators, other than to highlight a dogged persistence. The venues where she showcases her meager talent are as varied as the expertise levels employed. Those range from hobbyists to noobs and semi-professionals with checkered histories, and the implication, here, is twofold. In dead-end Choctaw, OK, that’s the best you’ll find. Also, it furthers Shug’s single-minded drive as she scours for exposure while oblivious to the lukewarm feedback. One can’t look away, though not for any alluring quality.

But there are two sets of lenses to view this film through, and both begin with its title; a hit record being the ultimate end goal for the protagonist, and ‘hit record’ as in the command for the mysteriously unexplained documentary crew that follows her around. There is a break with logic and continuity in the latter’s role and interest in her as a subject and how she could afford to hire anyone. Perhaps she dove into her own coffers—a newfound bounty from an inheritance from her mother. Little is explained, and therein lies the charm and beauty of the film; its haphazard logic is constructed with a skill that insinuates its own universe and bubble as if it all is a set-up for some of its characters to reappear in in a future work.

The other lens to view the film through is the crew’s footage, which makes up most of the film, i.e., the crew’s tapes constitute the film’s prevalent cinematography. All of which is captured on a hand-held camera where, depending on the situation, the fourth wall is broken, the camera encroaches into places it shouldn’t, and the tape is kept rolling as Shug attends to numerous arising disputes with other characters. Here is where the film resembles The Office’s detached photography—zoomed-in close-ups of facial expressions and fly-on-the-wall wide angles and shots from behind a barrier.

If the micro level of that footage concerns Shug’s travails, the macro view would be what the crew wants to express, especially when intruding into the sideshows. Is she being exploited for a laugh? With scenes played up to audience amusement [viewers’] and crowd bemusement [extras’], it is which role the film asks its audience to adopt. If Shug makes it, the cringe-fest would end, and we’re caught between the choice of rooting for a breakthrough and our own gratification. Perhaps there is a lesson in what this film wants to say about success if a tone-deaf, off-key wannabe singer can find some measure of it. Even if that means moving the goal posts and lowering both the bar and expectations.

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