Whether or not you’re a fan of 90’s grunge rock band Hole, the story of its drummer, Patty Schemel, is fascinating, heartbreaking and ultimately uplifting. Sadly, the documentary about her life, Hit So Hard, often misses that universal appeal.
Patty Schemel joined Hole after the recording of their first album, Pretty on the Inside, and was part of the band for the making of Live Through This, their most notable work. She was close friends with both Hole singer Courtney Love and her husband, Kurt Cobain. She also had substance abuse problems from fairly early in life. She spent most of Hole’s mid-90’s years of success bouncing between sobriety and heavy use of drugs and alcohol. Then, during the recording of the band’s 1998 album Celebrity Skin, a falling out with the group led her to a years-long spiral that would destroy her life and force her to build it anew.
Perhaps director P. David Ebersole is such a fan of Hole and Nirvana that he couldn’t resist himself or perhaps his choices were made cynically but the majority of the film is marred by an excessive focus on footage of Love and Cobain. Videos, previously unseen by most of the world, of Love’s drunken backstage antics or, more captivatingly, of Cobain playing sweetly with his young daughter certainly have their appeal. But there are times in Hit So Hard when you can almost forget the film is about Schemel. It seems to be the story of Hole/Love with a healthy dose of Nirvana worship.
When it really counts, though, Ebersole does deserve credit for being frank and truthful about Love. He allows multiple interviewees to question the veracity of her politics and feminism. More importantly, he makes sure to describe her apparent egoism and monomania. She seems to consider herself to be the entirety of Hole and everyone else to be an employee who could be replaced. As we see, the apex of this treatment is what triggered Schemel’s biggest, most recent and, hopefully, final downfall into addiction.
At this point, the film finally shows up for its subject. Footage of pre-rock bottom Schemel endears her to us. She comes across as endlessly charming, funny and sweet-natured. These images are side by side with current interviews with her. She has maintained her exquisite geniality but her descriptions of what she went through – the trial and humiliations she endured – makes us love her all the more for it.
However you feel about Hole or about Hit So Hard as a film, you will no doubt come away from it loving Patty Schemel. It’s a shame that Ebersole didn’t rely on his biggest asset from the beginning.