Many features are based on a novel, a play, a poem, a comic book but rarely does one land a title influenced by a song. ‘Hard Luck Love Song’ is that number drawing inspiration from a 2006 hit ‘Just Like Old Times,’ from country crooner Todd Snider. Just like songs in the genre, the feature is simple, direct, and honest.
The title is directed by Austin-raised writer-director Justin Corsbie, who needed to add more material to expand on the meat of the story considering the tune is only four minutes long. ‘Hard Luck Love Song’ stars Michael Dorman, Sophia Bush, rapper RZA, Dermot Mulroney, Eric Roberts, and Brian Sacca and narrates the tale of a wandering troubadour heavy laden with addiction, gambling, and romantic woes.
‘Hard Luck Love Song’ is very captivating from the opening scene until the credits roll, largely due to Michael Dorman’s performance. This New Zealand-born hunk, best known for ‘For All Mankind,’ adopts an impressive American accent and excellently embodies the charismatic, good-looking, guitar-playing bad boy Jesse in the film.
At the beginning of the movie, Jesse establishes himself as this rebellious bonafide guy during a cumbrous ordering session where he asks the waitress to hold the chicken salad, a reference to the classic film ‘Five Easy Pieces’ that leaves the server puzzled. He employs plenty of mind games wherever he goes in an attempt to clean out gullible victims off their cash. Despite the excellent coyness and outward conduct Jesse displays, he is a broken man deep down inside.
He is a failed artist who ping pongs between living in cheap motels and drowning his sorrows in booze. Some of the songs he sings on screen, which by the way, were a number too many and somehow constantly disrupted the flow of the narrative, are a clear portrayal of a heartbroken individual who has seemingly lost his way.
The film spends its first few minutes showing the different ways in which Jesse swindles money from different people, acquaintances, and strangers. From the very start, audiences are almost certain that his deeds will somehow, and at some point, come back to haunt him sooner or later.
Though he seems like a drunkard failure and a petty thief, Jesse is portrayed as a man with a heart of gold. After arriving in a new town with a cast on his hand, he finds a $100 bill. After indulging and treating himself to some cigarettes and some good quality alcohol, he gives a reasonable amount to a homeless person. He even affords him a hug in the process.
Jessie’s heart troubles are courtesy of the one who got away. A woman called Carla, a role by Sophia Bush who is now working as an escort girl. The former lovebirds didn’t end things on a great note; still, Jesse decides to call her up with the hopes of reviving their fizzled spark. Carla heeds Jesse’s call, and before long, she is again getting embroiled in his web of manipulation, lies, and drugs, proof that Jessie’s scheming goes way beyond money.
This time around, though, Carla realizes it early enough, and as the two get into a heated argument, one learns that both have made decisions and choices in the past that they aren’t proud of. However, Carla found a way to live with it while Jesse resulted in unending self-destruction. The heated exchange between the pair is riveting and raw, steering the film towards the direction that promises to end on a high note.
At some point, ‘Hard Luck Love Song’ ungainly races into another genre while shoving to the side the excellent character work keeping the story afloat. The movie leads to a violent confrontation and displays some absurd and pretentious violence that doesn’t make sense at all. Corsbie and his co-writer Craig Ugoretz fail at tying this story together with the realistic touch of the troubadour routine, verbal relationship sparring, and its exploration of addiction. The last half of the movie is undoubtedly all over and doesn’t make much sense.
When a trait becomes a constant thing, it develops into a habit where one can’t help themselves. One just does what they do best without posing to think and assess the consequences. As it is to be expected, Jesse hustles the wrong guy, a thug named Rollo, who is embodied by rom-com star Dermot Mulroney who makes it clear that he doesn’t like being conned, and if Jesse attempts to play on him, he will end up dead and buried where no one would ever find him.
On the other hand, Carla has a pimp played by rapper slash actor RZA who shows up to collect his property. All these entanglements with dangerous individuals coupled with the pain of their past lurking in the shadows threaten to ruin the exes’ second shot at love.
This feature feels authentically submerged in the Juke joint kind of lore, and in some instances, it oozes the vibes of an extended music video rather than a full-fledged movie. Corsbie allows the score to do the majority of the emotional storytelling. At the same time, the cinematography zooms into the destructive ways of the protagonist as he blows out rings of smoke from his constant puffing while constantly drowning bottles upon bottles of whiskey.
The appeal of a great song lies in the tiny details and the general feel the tune creates. So, to stay true to this aspect, Corsbie approaches the notes from the perspective of a first player. Every frame is delivered in sad saturated blues, cold neon greens and uses streetlights and stained-glass swag lamps to enhance the cinematic depth shadow. Despite the film not having anything specifically new or surprising, there is great love and attention accorded to the film, enhancing the title’s authenticity.
As the lead character, Dorman gives an award-worthy performance that audiences can’t help but like despite his bad habits. On the other hand, Carla isn’t as developed despite being referred to as someone special, a crucial aspect that is never explored beyond her constant support for her wasted friend Jesse. Still, both leads have great chemistry, and the audiences can’t help but root for their quest for happiness.
‘Hard Luck Love Song’ may be riddled with cliches, and the music changes are a bit predictable, but that’s what country fans love, so obviously, it works for them. Whether you are a fan of the music genre or not, this film is worth the watch just to appreciate the director’s effort and, of course, enjoy some great tunes.