A fairly typical tale of young talent on the rise in Nashville is given nicely nuanced treatment in The Thing Called Love. Perhaps there’s not much new to say about the dues and disappointments involved in breaking into the country music scene, but the scenes are fresh and the emotions real in Peter Bogdanovich’s tune-laden, mixed-mood drama.
Debuting screenwriter Carol Heikkinen’s story seems familiar from the outset, as cute aspiring singer-songwriter Miranda Presley (Samantha Mathis) Greyhounds from New York City to Nashville in search of her dream. Moving in with the buoyantly untalented Linda Lue Linden (Sandra Bullock), Miranda attracts the attention of two good-looking dudes, the moody, gifted James Wright (River Phoenix) and soulful Kyle Davidson (Dermot Mulroney), who writes better than he sings.
Characters hit the crossroads at a big country dance to which Kyle brings Miranda, but loses her after James, who is unexpectedly performing that night, invites her up onstage to join in one of his numbers.
Brought on to replace another director on relatively short notice, Bogdanovich hasn’t been able to transcend such fundamental script problems as its predictability and the conventional, thinly conceived secondary characters. But, like good country songwriters and singers, he and his leading actors have been able to locate authentic emotion in a standard format.