A Faux Love Story: Our Review of ‘Hard Luck Love Song’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - October 15, 2021
A Faux Love Story: Our Review of ‘Hard Luck Love Song’

Do you ever feel like a movie is gaslighting you? Because that’s what Justin Corsbie’s new film did to me…

Hard Luck Love Song bills itself as “a gritty love story about a charismatic but down-on-his-luck troubadour living out of cheap motels and making bad decisions.” Beyond the pretentiousness of identifying a former musician who rarely plays as a “troubadour,” there’s a second issue with the plot summary: this is not a love story. Rather, it’s the (sometimes upsetting) tale of a middle-aged man named Jesse (Michael Dorman), who struggles with substance use issues he is not ready to address…

Of course, a raw and sympathetic portrait of Jesse’s tortured relationship with drugs and alcohol would be a welcome piece of art. Films that humanize people living with addiction issues are in short supply, even in 2021. However, Hard Luck Love Song offers a two-dimensional portrayal of Jesse’s illness, failing respect the true wounds he has inflicted on others. Rather than grappling with the complexities of his life, the plot grants Jesse a redemptive love story without asking him to complete a meaningful redemption arc. 

On a trip back to his hometown, Jesse contacts his old flame, Carla (Sophia Bush). Carla was Jesse’s first love. She’s also the woman he abandoned in New Orleans during a blackout fifteen years earlier. Still handsome and handy with a guitar, Jesse reels Carla back in by promising to conquer his demons for her. Sadly, the would-be troubadour can’t actually be nice to his ex for even a single night. Instead, he pressures Carla into snorting lines of cocaine. He also judges her side hustle as a sex worker. 

Initially, it seems the script might actually realize Jesse is an abusive partner. Sophia Bush, an admittedly underrated actor, excuses herself to use the bathroom in one of Hard Luck’s better scenes. While in the loo, she reapplies makeup in the mirror and warns her reflection that Jesse will never change. But as sensible as Carla seems, she’s helpless to overcome a misogynistic script that makes her a prize for Jesse to win.

Perhaps the biggest problem with Hard Luck Love Song is the film’s timeline; Jesse’s reunion with Carla plays out over a single (implausibly eventful) evening. Rather than allowing its protagonist the time he needs – and deserves – to start recovery for his addictions, it uses cheap symbolism: Jesse uses a grand gesture to convince Carla he’s a changed man. Never mind that minutes before he was using the same substances  that caused the blackout when he first abandoned Carla. It seems unlikely things will go well for Jesse in the long-term until he makes a real attempt at recovery. How is this a love story? It feels more like the heartbreaking prelude to a tragedy…

This post was written by
Sarah Sahagian is a feminist writer based in Toronto. Her byline has appeared in such publications as The Washington Post, Refinery29, Elle Canada, Flare, The Toronto Star, and The National Post. She is also the co-founder of The ProfessionElle Society. Sarah holds a master’s degree in Gender Studies from The London School of Economics. You can find her on Twitter, where she posts about parenting, politics, and The Bachelor.
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