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Nashville Film Festival – Hard Luck Love Song (2021) – Review: A Charming and Authentic Film That Features a Standout Performance From Michael Dorman

October 4, 2021

Quick Thoughts – Grade – B+ – Closely based on the Todd Snider song “Just Like Old Times,” Hard Luck Love Song is a charming and authentic film that features a standout performance from Michael Dorman. 

A big thank you to the Nashville Film Festival for the screener. You should definetly check out their lineup each year.

The first glimpse the audience is given of Jesse (Michael Dorman – perfect in the role) is of him bloody and beaten, but still raising his bloody knuckles to throw down with his offscreen assailants. This quick glimpse lets us know everything we need to know about Jesse. He isn’t afraid to fight, or take a beating, and after some terrible smashings, is still alive and kicking. It’s an interesting way to introduce the character, who when we see him next, is driving a beat up car, his arm is in a cast, and he arrives at a cheap motel (That will look familiar if you’ve seen Leon Bridges music video for “River”) that will be his residence for several wild days and nights. 

Jesse is the kind of guy who randomly finds $100 bills on the sidewalk, then immediately buys some booze, and gives a wine bottle to a man on the street who had asked a pre-$100 Jesse for some change. At his core, he’s a kind soul, but he’s also a liar, who makes extra money by hustling people in pool halls, which undoubtedly leads to many black eyes. He buys his clothes at Goodwill-esque stores, and they fit him perfectly, and he somehow manages to escape deadly situations, without too many scratches. He’s like a cat with nine lives, who never learns a lesson after one of his lives is taken. Instead of leaving town after a narrow escape, he stays around, and tempts confrontations by not laying low. In other words, he’s a character from a popular song who’s been expertly translated into a believable movie character, who doesn’t “want to throw a fishing line in that old main stream.” Also, since it’s based on an Americana song about a troubled troubadour, expect Jesse to drink Lone Star beer, buy decent cocaine, spend time with his lost love, bloody his knuckles (again), quote Five Easy Pieces, and more drink cheap beer/whiskey/mezcal.

What also makes this movie work so well is that director/writer Justin Corsbie grew up in Austin, Texas, and seems totally comfortable inside of dive bars, cheap hotels, and pool halls so filled with smoke, it’s amazing anyone can make a shot. What’s neat is that he’s in no hurry to move on to the next location, and isn’t afraid to linger in dingy pool halls, where cinematographer Jas Shelton (Cyrus, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Togetherness) delivers excellent one-shot takes that feature Jesse running the table on his unsuspecting victims. Corsbie and producer Allison R. Smith did a fine job of finding dingy Los Angeles based locations that the production designer and art department didn’t have to spend much time or money decorating. 

Hard Luck Love Song is loaded with authentic-feeling performances from Sophia Bush, Dermont Mulroney, Eric Roberts, Brian Sacca, and RZA, who makes one of the my favorite movie introductions of 2021. It’s neat seeing Eric Roberts exude warmth, while Dermont Mulroney is a poolhall psycho who sports some serious gold teeth (it’s fun to watch). Bush is also excellent as Carla, a bartender, who has a history with Jesse, and knows he’s terrible, but is also charmed by his good looks and wild ways. You can tell all the actors enjoy their meaty roles, and have embraced playing characters who may or may not have been born in Mexican whorehouses. 

The only negative about the film are the tonal changes that don’t feel totally organic. It would be a spoiler to discuss some of the characters, but know there are several personalities who stick out like a sore thumb, and feel like they’re coming from another movie. They are likable characters, but they shift the tone dramatically and are a little over the top.

It’s interesting that the movie is being marketed as a “romantic thriller,” which doesn’t seem totally correct, but makes sense to add some intrigue to it. When you watch it, just expect an authentic and laidback film that features an excellent lead performance from Michael Dorman.

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