Hard Luck Love Song review — charming, grounded, and out of touch.

October 15, 2021
M.N. Miller 0
Film, Film Reviews
2.5

Summary

Hard Luck Love Song has a star-making performance in Michael Dorman that you wish you could lift and place in a better movie.

2.5

Summary

Hard Luck Love Song has a star-making performance in Michael Dorman that you wish you could lift and place in a better movie.

This review of Hard Luck Love Song is spoiler-free.


There are times I found first-time director Justin Corsbie‘s Hard Luck Love Song to be a young man’s Crazy Horse, a somewhat prequel to the Jeff Bridges award winner. Like that film, which heavily depends on Bridges’ magnetic turn and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance, Corsbie’s film has one in Michael Dorman (The Invisible Man). He gives a wonderful performance as Jesse. An endearing optimist who always sees the sunny side of things between the blow of coke, snorts of tequila, and running hustles all over a series of Los Angeles dive bars. It’s a performance so down to earth and charming, I practically developed a man crush right then and there. Unfortunately, it’s a turn you wish you could lift and place in a better movie.

Dorman’s Jesse is an unlucky country singer who makes ends meet by traveling from town to town, targeting barflies in pool games. He spots them, charms them, and then takes them for all their worth. As I said, he’s so charming. You want to hand in your wallet. Even gift him your plastic while you are at it. As he takes your money, he gives a warm hug. He is refreshing in a way. He puts a smile on anyone’s face. That’s until he meets Rolio (a woefully over-the-top Dermot Mulroney), a biker (not the Schwinn kind) with a mouth full of metal and a body painted in tats. Even though he lost his money fair and square, he demands another game, double or nothing, or he gets his money back — which is a strangely lopsided set of rules. 

Since Corsbie’s film is supposed to be a character study, none of the side characters matter, which is his mistake. They support the contrived plot by the middle of the second act that was needed and uncalled for. Jesse has a knack for making new friends and meeting up with old ones. An old flame, Carla (Sophia Bush), comes to visit Jesse at his hotel. However, she is no stranger to the Tumble Inn. A new bestie, Officer Zach (Brian Sacca), wants to party with him and has his back. Even a local bar owner (Eric Roberts, who serves no purpose here) likes him despite protecting Carla from being hurt.

Somewhere Corsbie took a sharp turn for quirky mainstream romance. While Sophia Bush has her charms, the script doesn’t help her be a believable strung-out working girl struggling to make ends meet. His script begins to jettison the gritty streets and deeper themes that examine Jesse’s penchant for always putting himself in danger. There is a scene where he begins to cry in a middle of a song — entirely out of character for him — which is never addressed again. Those are replaced by too many musical montages that begin to border on Disney territory. Bush could have knocked this role out of the park if it gave her meat to chew off the bone.

Hard Luck Love Song is based on Country singer Todd Snider’s hit, Just Like Old Times. (What’s next? My Achy Breaky Heart? God, I hope not). Filmed what I can only hope is pre-pandemic, its final scene is astonishingly out of touch—making light of a police shooting that is jaw-droppingly bad. The final result, while many will find it unpretentious, is just head-scratcher. Corsbie’s film had greatness in it, which is a testament to Dorman’s star-making turn that is practically disavowed by the second half. 

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