Hit So Hard does a surprising number of things right. For a documentary with the undeniable tendency to dwell on the most famous friends of its subject rather than on that person — Hole drummer Patty Schemel — herself, it recovers ably from the pitfalls of fawning and recoups with moments of greatness. For instance, it’s excellent at recasting the 1980s — that deceptively tumultuous decade in which the bands that defined the 90s grew up and developed their sensibilities — not simply as the era of Reagan’s prosperity and Michael Jackson’s cosmic ascension, but more personally, as a tough time to have been a weird kid. Not coincidentally, it’s also appropriately sympathetic to the story of troubled Schemel, even while it focuses for long spells on the only tangentially glamorous aspects of her life.
Although the film strays off course as it meanders through easy references to Nirvana and interviews with tiresomely in-your-face Hole singer Courtney Love, Hit So Hard manages to stick to the task, at least, of delivering a full sense of the world in which Schemel — great drummer, drug addict, lesbian, and key member of the grunge scene — grew up. Equally influenced by The Go-Gos and The Melvins (and no less by pioneering gender-bending songstress Phranc), Schemel was years into her musical career, not to mention her drug and alcohol addictions, when she found herself drumming in a band that was about to go global. She spent six years gracing the cover of major music magazines, touring the world, and playing second (or third) fiddle to Love, all the while scraping to survive the drugs-and-death atmosphere so pervasive in the grunge scene.
The most unexplored vein of Schemel’s psyche (an unfortunate pun: she became a homeless crackhead on L.A.’s Skid Row after Love replaced her for a session drummer) is her clear obsession with fame. Although she cites as influences various members of the L.A. and Seattle underground punk and queercore scenes, she refrains from fully identifying with them, choosing instead to lament her poor treatment in the unabashedly fame-based music industry of the major labels. By the time the film interviews her, Schemel has moved beyond Hole professionally, working a low-key job as a dog walker. But the grudge she bears against an unsurprisingly vain and superficial industry feels too great for a person who’s lived through so much.
On the other hand, who could spend 20 years touching the hem of fame and then resist venting to a film crew when finally given the chance? In any case, Hit So Hard is a worthy, sometimes-stirring tribute to an overlooked musician whose life story deserves a full-fledged biography.