Everything that can be said against the fairly standard Canadian drama Hit N’ Strum is undone almost entirely by the fact that its heart and emotion are coming from a genuine place of conviction and warmth. It would be unfairly cynical to really suggest that anything in this gentle and outwardly crowd pleasing slice of life tale from the cobblestoned streets of Vancouver is meant to harm or unfairly manipulate the audience in any way. The narrative is a bit too wonky to do that and it certainly isn’t a very well assembled film in a lot of respects, but it coasts along more often than not on an effortless charm that feels earned.
After carelessly hitting a homeless busker with her car, a businesswoman named Stephanie (Michelle Harrison) feels an incredible burden of guilt for leaving the scene of the accident. She becomes increasingly pushy when it comes to helping Mike (played by writer and director Kirk Caouette) even when he doesn’t want it. Content with simply playing with in his three piece street corner band, he rebuffs her gifts of a new guitar and a potential meeting with a record company, but he isn’t too blind to see that she genuinely cares for what happens to him.
To the film’s immense credit, there’s no love story to be found between these two characters, even though one gets hinted at. It ultimately adds the realism that the film needs to succeed since the rest of the film trods over similar ground that The Soloist and Good Will Hunting already covered. Mike’s story is the more interesting one, but for the first half of the film the audience gets left in the dark a bit too much in terms of figuring out what makes him tick. Stephanie is mostly happy in her engagement to her kind of douchy fiancée and we can tell she feels extremely guilty, but outside of those two traits and knowing that she has the necessary professional connections to lead the story into a somewhat rushed third act, she’s kind of a blank slate.
It’s nagging, but of little consequence, since both leads carry a natural charisma to them that make it fun to watch. Caouette (who was a long time stunt man and recently released an album of his own) clearly puts his heart into his performance and every word or dialogue and every lyric that Mike delivers. Even when the rest of his film around him is far too on the nose and obvious, it’ Caouette’s performance that does a better job of grounding the film than his script and direction do.
There’s no real sense of pacing to the timeline of the film, and that’s a pretty big problem. While Caouette is doing a fine job at portraying a homeless person, the film blows off numerous important details that raise the level of implausibility. When Mike is in the hospital being treated for TB, a nurse says that he’s doing really well when he clearly shouldn’t be going anywhere if he has something that serious. It’s the kind of universe where someone can drop off a box of demos in front of a guy on a street corner and literally seconds later a club owner thinks they are legitimate and offers them a tryout as a house band. And the less said about a final act trip to Toronto to try and land a recording contract the better. These are all things that would work in an over-the-top fairy tale, but not in a production with such a low budget and leanings towards the realistic. Not helping matters is how poorly edited and slack the whole thing feels, with nearly every scene ending with a fade out like it was the only option in the editing room.
And yet while watching the film I really found myself wanting to like what I was seeing and actively pulling for it all to work. Caouette is definitely onto something that feels emotionally resonant even if he doesn’t fully know how to pull it all together on his own. Much like the character he plays, deferring to some people willing to help might have been advantageous. His soundtrack is pretty good though, and considering it’s a film that’s “all about the music, man” he’s at least got a huge component of it working.