Hard Luck Love Song, 2021.
Directed by Justin Corsbie.
Starring Michael Dorman, Sophia Bush, RZA, Dermot Mulroney, Eric Roberts, and Brian Sacca.
A gritty love story about a charismatic but down-on-his-luck troubadour living out of cheap motels and making bad decisions.
Hard Luck Love Song opens up on Michael Dorman’s, a bloodied and beaten sight for sore eyes, promptly flashing back to the beginning of this tale. However, even without that glimpse, it’s not exactly hard to figure out where co-writer/director Justin Corsbie’s debut feature (based on the song “Just Like Old Times” by country singer Todd Snider, adapting alongside Craig Ugoretz) is going to end up. It also doesn’t help that the first act spends so much time establishing the different ways that Jesse is a money-swindling con artist (but with a degree of honor as he tosses some change and alcohol to a homeless man) and antagonizes a group of heavily inked troublemakers led by Dermot Mulroney, it would be a miracle if all this somehow didn’t come back to bite him in the ass during the climax.
Before getting into how that whirlwind of a third act destroys nearly everything Hard Luck Love Song has going for it, it should be noted that the one constant source of quality here is the drunken slur of a performance from Michael Dorman. Whether he’s faking an injury or deceiving his pool tournament opponents inside of a bar so that you can challenge them to double or nothing games effectively cleaning them out of cash, the turn is methodical and fine-tuned. That’s also because, despite the successful mind games and external happy wanderer attitude, Jesse is broken on the inside; he’s a failed singer-songwriter and country guitarist alternating living inside trashy motels while wasting his life away drinking. Some of the songs (too many that disrupt the flow) also indicate hurting over a past girlfriend.
That woman happens to be Carla (Sophia Bush), who seems to now be doing phone sex work. Already somewhat drunk, Jesse decides to call the number and weasel his way into a reunion (they did not end the relationship on good terms) with her visiting the room. Naturally, the drinking continues, but Jesse also introduces cocaine into the mix revealing further problems with addiction. It’s probably not a spoiler to say that the reconnection starts as promising and happy with Jesse convincing Carla that he has all his vices under moderation. To viewers, it’s clear that Jesse’s scheming goes beyond making money and that he is actually a manipulative wreck that Carla is once again falling for. She even snorts a bit of the cocaine (that, amusingly, Jesse cuts with an old Blockbuster Video card).
Inevitably, the house of cards crumbles with Hard Luck Love Song transitioning into an extended argument that illuminates some painful truths to Jesse. These two people have both made choices that they regret, but only one of them has found a way to live with rather than turn to perpetual self-destruction. The back-and-forth is both riveting and raw, seemingly pulling the film on a path destined to end on a high note, given that the filmmakers have already shown a flash of what’s coming.
Between the world’s friendliest cop (Brian Sacca) and revered rapper turned actor RZA arriving on the scene busting some heads, the script gracelessly careens into another genre while tossing aside all the terrific character work propping up the story. Hard Luck Love Song doesn’t just lead to a violent confrontation; it leads to silly and contrived nonsensical violence. For one last jolt of whiplash, it ends on some disingenuous and random Kumbuya bullshit. An officer of the law also says, “I’m a cop, that means I can do anything,” in a heroic context after needlessly opening fire. Justin Corsbie and adapting alongside 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 30 minutes are undoubtedly drunk on something.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com