The history of any relationship is likely to follow it throughout its course and influence its future. Past highs and lows will predict and inform what comes next. The same fights will inevitability repeat themselves. Personality traits may provide an excellent recipe for romance but not one for symbiotic living, and contradictory characteristics can lead to clashes and an eventual breakup. Yet in many cases, one or both parties of a couple are determined to stick it out and give it one more shot, even if every example points to impossibility, which serves as the guiding principle of Hard Luck Love Song.
Jesse (Michael Dorman) spends his days and nights moving from place to place, staying at motels and hustling those who don’t know how skilled he really is at pool. His tactics often mean a quick exit, particularly when a well-connected mobster (Dermot Mulroney) catches wind of his operation. An unexpected reunion with Carla (Sophia Bush) represents the opportunity to return to a more stable, nostalgic time, though neither Jesse nor Carla have changed enough for them to avoid going down the same familiar and troubled roads that threatened to keep them apart when they were together.
This film is based on the song “Just Like Old Times” by Todd Snider, expanding on its themes to create a narrative and universe that best captures the spirit of the Southern music scene. Jesse is the kind of character who could have walked right off a sheet of music, conjured into thin air as someone who shouldn’t be able to survive given the recklessness and lack of focus that he uses to navigate his daily life. But there’s also something universal about him, plagued with the same problems as everyone else and only choosing to respond to them differently with the attitude that he can only control what he can control, and the rest should be met with a mixture of indifference and detached serenity.
Due to Jesse’s questionably moral and certainly irresponsible activities, this film is billed as a crime thriller, one that on occasion finds him facing expected consequences for his freewheeling lifestyle. There is also a bizarre subplot about an overeager police officer (Brian Sacca) desperate for social contact. What is far more potent, however, is the spotlight on Jesse’s connection with Carla. There is a tremendous intimacy to the way that they interact, and they convey the enormity of their experiences that fall beyond the scope of this film’s timeline, inviting audiences to understand the complexity and nuances of their story.
Dorman has an affable demeanor that makes him well-suited for this role, exuding enough charisma to make up for Jesse’s commitment to illicit and often dangerous activities. Bush, best known for TV roles in One Tree Hill and Chicago PD, delivers a compelling performance opposite him, making Carla individualistic and spirited in a way that the script might not have otherwise allowed her to be. This film is at its most poignant when the two of them are onscreen together, just existing and sometimes even singing, content to remain in a lingering moment of happiness and not to recall the many ways in which it can all so easily fall apart.
Those scenes don’t constitute the entirety of this film, which occasionally interjects violence and reality into otherwise blissful points with little to no warning. Those unpredictable and jolting interruptions feel most true-to-life, since they offer a staggering and jarring snap back to the present and the need for seriousness and stability to ensure success and livelihood. Like the song that inspired it, this film is most effective as a portrait of the flawed concept of the American dream, something that can be described and wished for but is remarkably difficult to attain.
Hard Luck Love Song opens in theaters on Friday, October 15th.