Writer/director Ethan Cvitanić’s comedic faux-documentary Hit Record chronicles a small-town high schooler’s dream of making it as a pop star. We are introduced to Shug Cherney (co-writer Shug Cvitanić) at the entrance of her school while being picked up by the two “documentarians” that will track her longshot attempt at pop stardom. Shug’s youthful enthusiasm bursts forth. This “documentary” may be the first rung in the ladder leading her out of Choctaw, Oklahoma.
Hit Record rests on the shoulders of Cvitanić’s performance, and what a performance it is. Her role is not easy to pull off—a blend of bratty teen that is nonetheless worthy of our sympathy. We know the odds are stacked against her, even if her exuberance does not allow her to assess the odds. Shug’s father (Paul Suffridge) is a pastor who disapproves of her skimpy outfits and her decision to skip out on the church’s missionary trip to Haiti. Her mother died when Shug was 13. In summary, parental support is in short supply for Shug.
Hit Record takes the viewer along on a series of vignettes that enumerate her many failures and humiliations. She encounters an incompetent music producer, tries out a guest rapper for her record who ends up being arrested for the robbery of a convenience store, and meets creepy photographers and videographers whose gazes make our stomachs turn. The biggest humiliation comes when Shug is pranked by someone who invites her to perform at Best Buy. She shows up at the store, begins singing, and is quickly told by a manager that she must leave.
“…will track her longshot attempt at pop stardom.”
Cvitanić must be applauded for his masterful use of actors and non-actors. We are never quite sure if employees and customers at fast-food restaurants and stores, kids that harass Shug, or billiards players at open-mic restaurants were recruited to perform for the film or were simply individuals caught on camera by the guerilla filmmaking style. One of the most heartbreaking moments comes when the director films what are presumably Choctaw residents and asks them for an honest assessment of one of Shug’s hip-hop tracks. We are reminded that audience criticism always stings no matter how thick an artist’s skin. It also becomes evident to the viewer why Shug wants to leave Choctaw—her music does not conform to the country music and classic rock preferences of her hometown.
It takes a while, but eventually, it starts hitting you that Hit Record is more than just a mere faux-documentary about a wannabe pop star. It becomes obvious that Cvitanić is indeed documenting something more, something very real. He is chronicling with warmth and understanding the social phenomenon the media has labeled “Trump Country.” He has captured the essence of those small towns, those tiny dots on the American map made up of fast-food restaurants, big box stores, strip malls, and padlocked factories, inhabited by folks overflowing with dreams of flight. Shug’s escape is a pop star career. Her best friend’s escape is becoming a veterinarian. The dreams seem farfetched because they are.
Hit Record is a brilliant account of where we currently are in this country, the place where many of our psyches are—our minds chasing an American Dream, but our feet caught and held down by an endless American Hustle.
"…masterful use of actors and non-actors."