(Written by Intern, Wyatt Frantz)
Memes are a constantly fluctuating aspect of our culture, constantly going in and out of style, remaining as a passing humorous thought to many. Does “Hey, Viktor” ring a bell? If not, then that is the idea behind the mockumentary of the same name, featuring a self-proclaimed movie star who let the fame from his passing lines as a child actor get to his head in the worst way possible. In a frenzied attempt to revive his career, we are forced to bear witness to a question that will have any director in tears. What happens when the last person that one wants running a film set… runs a film set?
After peaking in 1998’s Smoke Signals, Cody Lightning (as himself), a Native American actor, pays the bills with pornos and childrens acting classes. His wife is tired of him living in the past, and leaves him for a more successful ethnic actor. Cody sees this as a form of replacement in a wrath of scales. At least he has a camera crew at his side documenting the tipping of the scales, who Cody thinks are incentivized by his wildly successful career. That is not until a surprise inquisition by Craig Boner (Colin Mochrie) and his reality show, “Getting Sober with Craig Boner,” reveals the truth behind the cameras. Put on the spot, Cody turns his back on sobriety and convinces his partner in crime, Kate (Hannah Cheesman), to instead help him and his cameramen produce his next big hit: Smoke Signals 2.
However, making a movie takes financing that Cody sorely lacks. He takes to stealing shoddy home appliances and pawning them off with his sketchy uncle, Reggie (Conway Kootenay). That does not last long when a sporadic gun-wielding German chases them out of the pawn shop… because he is a huge fan of Smoke Signals, of course! It is a dream come true to Cody, who cannot help but fanboy with the German over their favorite movie, although his chaotic demeanor leaves Kate uneasy. Cody is roped into accepting $100,000 to produce his pet project, given he can keep one unconditional promise. He must reunite the entire cast from the original. On good terms with none of his former peers, and without rights to the original material, Cody strides off in confidence with the money anyways.
For those who do not know, Smoke Signals was actually released by Miramax in 1995, and Hey, Viktor! depicts everything about it with truth, down to Cody Lightning having played Viktor. The former Smoke Signals crew (Simon Baker, Adam Beach, Gery Farmer, Irene Bedard) also returns to play the cast that Cody must band together. Centralizing its fictional plot around the real Native American efforts that started it all, the cultural exposure and in-jokes that pay tribute to Smoke Signals give Hey, Viktor! an added sense of purpose.
Learning about its deep ties to the hidden classic left me feeling that I missed out on some of what the story had to offer. Putting things into comparison, it felt akin to watching The Disaster Artist without having seen The Room, and may feel likewise to festival audiences unfamiliar with the jaded classic. Rest assured, one does not need to watch Smoke Signals to enjoy the dommed filmmaker’s handbook imbued in the plot Hey, Viktor! The way its modern obscurity is depicted reality hilariously validates Cody’s fictionalized ego. The writing manages the audience’s expectations, much unlike Cody, who shows no remorse in his self-absorption and pilots the anti-hero story at full speed ahead. As the down-and-out actor follows what utmost delusional expectations he sets for himself, things go exactly as one may expect.
Aside from the down-and-out actor story tropes, and the novelty of seeing a new creative vision coming from a Smoke Signals cast member, the humor landed inconsistently for me. It is hard to say why though. It hits the right story beats and occasionally had my laughs echoing throughout the house, especially when it came to the German producer. The role improv played in the production, with the script being used as a guideline (as per an interview with Salon) may explain the lack of polish. Combined with the raw style of cinematography and historical context, I still commend Cody’s truthfulness to life both on and off the screen. If I am being picky, stronger performances or comedic timing may have helped the comedic punches hit harder. Regardless, the mix of Cherokee chuckles can resonate in a large social setting or alone with a few drinks in hand.
A humble ode to filmmaking in a ramshackle trial of dismay, Hey, Viktor! places both deceptive egos and the power of friendship at its center. All that lies below its surface implies that the performed narrative is not the only ode to be told. A testimonial easter egg to some, and a struggling actor story for others, Hey, Victor! fits in a comfortable niche with Native American communities and cinephiles alike.
Hey Viktor! screened at the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday, September 7.