He stars as Jesse, who has returned to his hometown broke and seemingly out of luck. And it soon becomes clear that he earns his hard luck by making bad choices.
Writer/director Justin Corsbie, teaming up with writer Craig Ugoretz, take inspiration from the Todd Snider song “Just Like Old Times” and fill in what they believe is the backstory for the quirky tale of a renewed romance.
Jesse’s romantic interest is Carla (Sophia Bush), who turns out to have an ad in the local weekly newspaper offering her services. Her pimp, played by RZA, isn’t too amused when he finds out that his gal is heading over to a sleazy hotel to see Jesse.
But that turns out to be the least of Jesse’s problems. His real trouble lies with various roughnecks he meets in pool halls and nightclubs. He acts like a rube and agrees to make bets on a pool game, then loses the first one, stringing them alone to double the money on the next one. And then he runs the table, like Paul Newman’s Eddie Felson taking on Jackie Gleason’s Minnesota Fats.
There’s a big difference, however. In “Hard Luck Love Song,” the pool player who gets hustled is named Rollo, played with a menacing darkness by Dermot Mulroney.
“I don’t like getting hustled,” Rollo tells Jesse. “And things that I don’t like wind up in a hole in the fucking desert.”
Despite Jesse’s bad choices, it’s clear that he’s a good guy. When he finds a $100 bill on the street and walks to a nearby liquor store to buy some booze, he buys another bottle for a homeless man he saw just a few minutes ago on his way to the store.
Jesse’s relationship with Bush’s Carla also reveals a good heart — or at least the remnants of it. When a cop shows up to get Jesse and Carla to quiet down because of noise complaints from guests in nearby rooms, Jesse pulls out a photo of Carla when the two were in high school and explains that they are having a night in honor of old times.
In short, Jesse is a charmer, so he’s easy to root for, even if he messes with the wrong people. And Dorman is just the guy to play him, having not only a good singing voice but also sharp pool skills — and a somewhat hang-dog, hound-dog persona.
The story of a downtrodden troubadour isn’t anything new — especially in the realm of American music and movies exploring those themes. But Corsbie makes the most of his interpretation of the Snider song. And Dorman helps make the movie a winner.
The soundtrack, overseen by Los Angeles DJ Dan Wilcox, is superb — an homage to Americana music and the musicians who make it. Austin music fans will find much to love.
“Hark Luck Love Song” opens in Austin at the Arbor, the Barton Creek 14 and the Hill Country Galleria 14. Corsbie and producer Allison R. Smith are scheduled to do a Q&A after the 6:50 p.m. screening at the Arbor on Oct. 15.