If you ever attended one of Todd Snider’s concerts in the area, you probably chuckled when he sang “Just Like Old Times” where a police officer checks in on a couple reuniting after many years. A story song with narration and dialogue as lyrics, the piece inspired writer-director Justin Corsbie to stretch the idea into a feature film called Hard Luck Love Song. “Stretch” proves the operating word, with a concept offering even less action than Ode to Billy Joe or Harper Valley PTA.
No criticism to Snider’s song, which he takes on the road to places like Lake Tahoe in 2021. But the song’s laid-back, ironic aspects prove difficult to transform into dynamic, cinematic elements. Still, writer-director Corsbie succeeds at creating the down-and-out lifestyle of a talented guy who repeatedly sets himself up for failure. Playing a bar singer and guitar strummer named Jesse, Michael Dorman comes off as appropriately gifted and self-destructively willful. As in Snider’s song, he does better at hustling pool than landing gigs, allowing director Corsbie to set action in dive bars where bad dudes hang out. These include Dermot Mulroney and Eric Roberts, longtime and skillful professionals with the residue of matinee idol looks adding menace to their characters.
Overall, Corsbie effectively captures a world where nothing gets more elegant than dingy bars and grimy little motel rooms. Neither the characters nor the movie have any particular place to go, but they find some moments of entertainment while hanging around—more fun for them than outside viewers. Audiences, meanwhile, do better waiting for end credits and the chance to hear the clever Snider sing his version of “Just Like Old Times.” The movie opened in theaters Oct. 15.