“Hard Luck Love Song” is based on a country music song. The script doesn’t just borrow a line here or there. Nearly all the major story points match lyrics from singer/songwriter Todd Snider’s 2006 ballad “Just Like Old Times”.
And the film’s unconventional nature doesn’t end there. The first half hour or so is basically a one-person perspective, and it exudes a great vibe. Jesse (played by Michael Dorman) strolls into and then around Austin, TX. He travels the streets – wandering in and out of establishments – befriending a homeless man and a liquor store cashier. He even finds a $100 bill that’s blown up against a chain-link fence. Life alone, playing and listening to music in his hotel room, is pretty good.
Jesse is also searching for the right pool hall to apply his talent — hustling one challenger after another. Director Justin Corsbie films these sequences with precision and intensity. We get completely sucked-in, even as Dermot Mulroney’s menacing opponent Rollo gives Jesse cartoonish looks across the billiard table during a high-stakes tournament.
The refreshing easy-going pace continues into the second act, which takes place later that night. Jesse reunites with ex-girlfriend Carla (Sophia Bush). They party hard, eventually revisiting the issues that split them up.
This leads to a long, ugly argument sequence that knocks “Hard Luck Love Song”off its track. The pacing slows to a crawl, and then the script veers off to a series of distracting storylines. Yes, many of them are taken directly from the lyrics of the song, and that is the point (some might say gimmick) of the film. But a little restraint from Corsbie and co-writer Craig Ugoretz would have helped tremendously.
The final verse of “Hard Luck Love Song” is a bit of a mess, with goofy characters and situations aplenty. Still, I recommend giving this film a chance. It dares to be different, is absolutely memorable, and awkwardly rewarding. These days that’s a combination that’s pretty hard to find.
LCJ GRADE: B-
Running Time: 104 min.