This gritty adaptation of lyrics by one of Nashville's most original songwriters is slightly off-note, although the melodies themselves are off the charts. Todd Snider's "Just Like Old Times" is a descriptive country song that doesn't involve a tractor, a truck, or a dog, but it's overflowing with substance use, regrets, and bad choices. Listening to the song's lyrics unwinds a cinematic reel in your mind; it's cleverly written, with a wit that makes you laugh out loud. But this dramatic interpretation is a downer. And, unlike a country single, it's not relatable -- at all. The story follows a pool hustler (Dorman) who drifts into town and sees that his old flame (Sophia Bush) is advertising escort services in the back of a weekly rag. They reconnect in a seedy hotel while drinking, smoking, and snorting a whole lot of cocaine, singing original songs on the guitar while trying to repair their pain. It's more Lou Reed than Garth Brooks. We all have friends in low places, but maybe not this low. Focusing too much on their current situation rather than how they got there, the movie loses the thread that lets many viewers see themselves or their loved ones in the story. Still, getting to know these characters helps expand our empathy and encourages seeing people as more than their labels or circumstances.
While the film isn't as dazzling as the song that inspired it, the music overall is phenomenal. Great songs are played at every opportunity: Bands performing in bars, radio tunes filling a car, and Jesse strumming his own original compositions in his hotel room are all strong musical inclusions that make the journey come alive. But country songs don't always offer happy endings, and this film's conclusion has to make you wonder, too. Can love really conquer all, even alcoholism and a lifetime of iffy choices?