‘Hard Luck Love Song’ Review: Impatient Viewers May Tune Out Long Before the Music Ends

Justin Corsbie’s self-indulgent indie is not worth the effort of making a disparaging pun based on its title.

Hard Luck Love Song
Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

The first 40 minutes of “Hard Luck Love Song” are so aggressively off-putting, even the unluckiest of audiences may be tempted to to walk out of the theater or turn off the TV. The arrantly contrived last 20 minutes are equally patience-testing — and borderline loony to boot. Everything in between is bearable, if only by comparison, but not particularly worth the bother.

Director Justin Corsbie and co-writer Craig Ugoretz devote an inordinate amount of time to an interminable slog of a set-up, introducing their protagonist, Jesse (Michael Dorman of Apple TV’s “For All Mankind”), as a struggling country music singer-songwriter who, judging from what we hear of his songs, might do well to give up the struggle. When it comes to making money, he’s more successful as a pool hustler. But not always. When we first see him rolling into an unnamed small city in his battered Chevy Nova, he has his hand in a cast. Evidently, he’s not always adept at hiding his talent from easy marks who resent being played.

“Hard Luck Love Song” is nominally based on the seriocomic song “Just Like Old Times” by Todd Snider, who performs the tune during the closing credits as a kinda-sorta recap of everything that precedes his appearance. The movie also has the flavor of 1970s New American Cinema — there’s even a wink-wink allusion to “Five Easy Pieces” — which wouldn’t be such a bad thing had Corsbie and Ugoretz actually learned any lessons from the classics they clearly admire.

Instead of persuasive verisimilitude and compelling character development, we get scene after scene of Jesse waiting for something, anything, in his dingy motel room — sometimes drunk or angry, sometimes both at once, and sometimes weepy as he accompanies himself on guitar while singing his own hard luck love songs.

After what feels like a very long time, Jesse hustles a violent-tempered opponent (Dermot Mulroney, impressively scary) for a few thousand in a spectacularly grubby bar, barely escapes with his life, and decides to celebrate back at his motel with female companionship. But when he checks out the listings in a weekly newspaper, he is shocked to see an ad for a hooker who quotes one of his songs. A mind reader? Heavens, no. Carla (Sophia Bush), the sweetheart he left behind (or, to be more precise, drove away) years ago now is supplementing her salary as a country bar waitress by doing her own kind of hustling.

He invites her to come by to share memories of their past, without her knowing what he knows (or thinks he knows) about her present, and the movie lurches into a long stretch of sweet talk and truth telling, heavy drinking and cocaine-snorting, musical interludes and angry outbursts, all of which maybe could have been more interesting in the context of a standalone one-act play. Maybe.

And just when you start to think, “You know, what this movie really needs is Eric Roberts to pop up, steal some scenes and goose things along,” Roberts does indeed pop up to pick up an easy paycheck as the avuncular owner of the bar where Carla works. That’s not much, but it helps.

To give “Hard Luck Love Song” its due, Dorman does a respectable job of balancing sodden self-pity, ingratiating aw-shucks attitude, and credible bad-boy allure as Jesse, especially in his scenes with the well-cast Bush. In addition to Roberts and Mulroney, standout supporting players include Brian Sacca as a surprisingly indulgent police officer and RZA as a not-so-surprisingly possessive pimp.

DP Jas Shelton effectively conveys smoky, squalid ambiance of the various low-rent locations. And the  soundtrack is peppered with appropriate country, Americana and rock songs composed and performed by people way more talented than Jesse. At one point, a bar band launches into a spirit-lifting rendition of Rusty Wier’s celebratory “Don’t It Make You Wanna Dance.” Unfortunately, the band doesn’t even get to finish the song, and we have to go back to the tedium of the narrative.

‘Hard Luck Love Song’ Review: Impatient Viewers May Tune Out Long Before the Music Ends

Reviewed online, Oct. 13, 2021. (In Nashville Film Festival.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 104 MIN.

  • Production: A Roadside Attractions release of a Dime Box Entertainment production, in association with Synthetic Pictures. Producers: Allison R. Smith, Justin Corsbie, Douglas Matejka. Executive producers: Peter J. Scalettar, Christian Monti Ronna, Shay Scruggs, Todd Snider, Burt Stein.
  • Crew: Director: Justin Corsbie. Screenplay: Justin Corsbie, Craig Ugoretz, based on the song “Just Like Old Times” by Todd Snider. Camera: Jas Shelton. Editor: J. Davis. Music: Will Blair, Brooke Blair.
  • With: Michael Dorman, Sophia Bush, Dermot Mulroney, RZA, Brian Sacca, Melora Walters, Eric Roberts.
  • Music By: Will Blair, Brooke Blair.