Published Apr 04, 2013One of the biggest problems with presenting a fictional, folk-y singer-songwriter type on screen as a unique musical talent is that, as a record label executive states late in the film, "what's good is a matter of taste." But you know what's not a matter of taste? Objective ability.
With that in mind, there's no way a person who's heard music before could mistake the generic, pedestrian folk strumming of Kirk Caouette (the stuntman-turned-writer/director/actor/musician responsible for this preachy tripe) as anything even remotely resembling remarkable. His simplistic, derivative songs make Hospital Music-era Matthew Good sound like Illinois-era Sufjan Stevens by comparison.
Painting himself as an unfairly overlooked, stubbornly principled homeless street musician, Caouette's punnily titled Hit 'n Strum (what, was Beauty and the Busker taken?) is essentially a bloated, embarrassing vanity project made to prop up his delusions of entitlement and grandeur.
Serving as little more than an excuse to fluff up the director's ego, the story revolves around a pretty businesswoman named Stephanie (Michelle Harrison), who tries to assuage her guilt over ploughing into a vagrant (Caouette) with her car by buying him unwanted gifts and trying to mother him into getting his shit together.
Being the sanctimonious slacker that he is, Mike, as Stephanie learns that the busker she never noticed playing in front of her office building before is named, pridefully refuses her efforts to buy off her conscience, and instead attempts to force her to see the value and nobility of his cookie-cutter, anti-conformist lifestyle.
Of course, all any interchangeable, bearded, Caucasian guitar strummer with a hard luck story and affected vocal style needs to be successful is a wealthy, attractive white woman to be his sugar momma. Therefore, after a few near-brushes with gutter death due to untreated tuberculosis, Mike's staunch anti-capitalist façade begins to crumble.
Stuffed between the cracks of his transparent self-promoting agenda — there are a number of full song performances that don't even pretend to have anything to do with advancing the story — Caouette makes a few clumsy attempts at inserting subtext about the stock market crash and the greedy opportunism of insurance firms. However, like his posturing about musical knowledge (gender has nothing to do with selecting an appropriate guitar for someone and nobody needs to be "good at math" to follow a basic 4/4 pattern), his grasp on the topic is shaky at best (regarding records labels: just when was there a "Big Five" following a market crash?).
The only insightful comment in the entire film comes from the same label exec mentioned earlier, who recognizes that the entertainment press are suckers for a sensationalist story, regardless of the quality of music (just look at the initial buzz behind the band Girls).
Shot with all the stylistic finesse of a TV movie of the week, Hit 'n Strum is a glaring example of self-indulgent, ingratiating hipster hokum at its worst and likely never would have been made without the benefits of cronyism enjoyed by a man who used to make a living being tossed around by celebrities pretending to be gods dressed in tights. (4Branch Productions)