THE WASHINGTON POST – Hard Luck Love Song would have made a great short film. This is meant as a compliment.
Granted, at 104 minutes, the movie is still shorter than a lot of stuff out there. But the feature debut of director and co-writer Justin Corsbie – who shares a writing credit with Craig Ugoretz, based on Todd Snider’s song Just Like Old Times– covers too little ground in too much time. In other words, what could have been a taut, gripping, emotional story ends up being diluted by a surrounding narrative that meanders and moseys to the point of irrelevance.
Jesse (Michael Dorman) is almost a composite. We’ve seen bits and pieces of this down-on-his-luck character before, in Crazy Heart (2009) and A Star is Born (1937, 1954, 1976 and 2018).
Jesse is supposedly a talented musician, but he makes his living – such as it is – hustling pool. We first meet him as he’s rolling into a town with a bar that, wouldn’t you know it, is just about to have a tournament with a big cash prize.
The town – possibly coincidentally, possibly not – also happens to be the home of Jesse’s ex-girlfriend Carla (Sophia Bush), whose character is as generic as Jesse’s. The duo’s drug-fuelled, vaguely seedy, mostly sweet reunion is the heart of the film. It’s just a shame there’s so much filler surrounding it.
Much of the success of Hard Luck Love Song is thanks to Dorman, who has that generically rugged handsomeness the role requires, while also bringing shades of goofiness that make the us root for Jesse maybe just a bit more than if he were merely another embodiment of lost potential swaddled in blue jeans. As Carla, Bush does less, but she has less to work with. Brian Sacca, who deserves a major tip of the Stetson for his role as a police officer in two scenes, does some laughingly unbelievable things, but somehow makes it work.
Some stories are classic: The troubled hero and his inspirational/tortured muse is one of them. (There’s a reason A Star is Born has been re-made so often). Hard Luck Love Song doesn’t so much recast a traditional story as it repeats it. There are no new levels of character, plot or structure here, nothing to distinguish it except for the longing it creates in its audience to be watching one of the movies from which it seems to have been derived. It’s not that the movie is badly made; it’s just that it’s been done better before – and often. If A Star Is Born is the perfect Italian gelato of the genre, then Hard Luck Love Song is frogurt.
Still, there’s enough good here so as not to entirely disappoint. In addition to Dorman’s performance, there’s the cinematography of Jas Shelton, who is particularly good when shooting at night.
Corsbie has some good instincts, but can be self-indulgent. The film’s spot-on use of music is a strength, right up until it’s spot-on one too many times. Hard Luck Love Song is just a late, weak entry in an already strong and overcrowded field.
Jesse is sure he’s got one big song in him, and maybe he does. And maybe he’s already drank and snorted that part of his promise away.
That’s how Hard Luck Love Song lands: This isn’t a hit, but maybe the next time we see Corsbie again, he’ll deliver something really worth listening to.