Hard to Hold

Hard to HoldSynopsis: Grammy-winning superstar Rick Springfield (“Jessie’s Girl”) heats up the screen in this rock and roll romance. An incredible soundtrack features seven Springfield songs, including the hit, “Love Somebody,” as well as music by Peter Gabriel, Graham Parker and Nona Hendryx.

Jamie Roberts (Springfield) is a rock star living the highlife when he falls for an intellectual child psychologist (Janet Eilber) who only has ears for the classics. Opposites attract, but his jealous ex-girlfriend isn’t ready to give up so easily. Love is hard to find when the whole world is watching.

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Hard to Hold 3.5

eyelights: the soundtrack.
eyesores: everything else.

“Will you stop harassing me? I know who you are: you’re a rock person of some sort.”

I’ve taken a few hits over the years for being a fan of Rick Springfield. While I think he’s been derided unfairly, I can certainly understand why: Firstly, he hit the scene in North America at exactly that moment in time when his brand of pop-rock became less fashionable; to have any street cred you had to be either hard rock and new wave. Secondly, he was marketed as a teen idol, a poster boy – something which lends no musician any semblance of substance.

Forget the fact that he was a multi-platinum selling artist who wrote and played his own music. Forget the fact that he’d won a Grammy award for “Jessie’s Girl”, his radio mainstay. Forget the fact that he’s still releasing new music and that his recording career has stretched over four decades. Forget the fact that he’s now also a respected author. No matter what the guy achieves, I get a snicker or a roll of the eyes whenever I dare to mention Rick Springfield.

‘Hard to Hold’, his 1984 starring debut, doesn’t help any.

Strangely enough, it’s this very movie that exposed me to Rick Springfield. I was a big fan of Video Hits at the time, a music video countdown show that played on my local television station, and the clip for “Love Somebody”,  the lead single from his soundtrack to the film, started playing regularly. I can’t for the life of me remember if it climbed the charts and for how long it was featured on the show. I just remember that I really dug the song. Really, really dug it.

It wasn’t long before I got the ‘Hard to Hold’ soundtrack and played it incessantly – not necessarily because I liked all of it (great first side, average second side), but because I wanted to get back to the opening number. Since I had gotten the tape, not the LP, I couldn’t just play the one song I wanted to hear over and over again (at least, not without some effort and consequent wearing out the tape). So I got very familiar with the album.

It would be years, however, before I got a chance to see the movie that inspired it. I’m not sure that it ever played in my town, but if it did it certainly didn’t stay in cinemas for long: in North America, it underperformed at the box office and was lambasted by critics across the board. What was intended to be the next step in Springfield’s blueprint to pop stardom ended up being an albatross around most of the cast and crew’s necks. It killed careers.

Even as a fan of the artist and the soundtrack, I can’t muster up much of a defense of it. When I first saw it, after buying a second-hand copy in a video store, I was stunned by how boring it is. I gave it many tries, and I just couldn’t drive up my enthusiasm for it. It was real crap. I eventually upgraded to laserdisc for peanuts, and later upgraded (yet again) to DVD when I found a copy in a pawn shop for 3$. At least the music would sound good.

But it took me years to get around to it, to find the courage to watch it. And it still sucks. No matter how many bad movies I’ve watched in my time, it’s an indisputably crummy movie: the script sucks, the direction is weak, the editing is garbage, the production is lackluster, and the performances are often risible. Only the songs are good, and even then they’re not used properly – they are frequently contextually inappropriate or buried in the mix.

The plot is utterly mundane: Jamie is a rock star who is struggling with writer’s block and is under pressure to produce another album. To make matters worse, his relationship with his writing partner is disintegrating and he’s on the eve of a massive tour. But, as the pressure mounts, a twist of fate offers him a small reprieve in the form of Diana, a child psychologist who he quite literally bumps into. A love affair develops between them, but it’s a tempestuous one.

Can Jamie hold all the pieces together? (and should anyone care?)

Honestly, nothing really happens in this picture: the whole damned thing revolves around juvenile interpersonal issues – the kind that frustrates onlookers because they’re so easily overcome. Except that these people have no emotional intelligence – not even Diana, the child psychologist. So all the stupid melodrama feels particularly contrived, and since it’s the only glue that keeps the plot together, you can’t help but sigh as you watch this miserable affair.

For example, Jamie’s co-writer, Nicki, storms into the dressing room after his concert and waives a broken bottle about menacingly. We don’t really know why, but she’s clearly upset. Jamie runs away. The next time we see her, however, she’s having fun jamming with the band – even though nothing’s been resolved. She and Jamie will continue to throw tantrums for the rest of the picture, like a pair of petulant children. Lovely. Absolutely lovely.

Similarly, Jamie and Diana constantly fight over stupid crap. Their first fight follows their first night together: she politely asks him to leave because she has an early day ahead. He responds by shouting. This continues for the rest of the picture, leaving one to believe that the mercurial Jamie has anger issues and needs help. It certainly doesn’t endear him to us. The same can be said for Diana, who also has her own meltdowns. What a pair!

Strangely enough, the filmmakers tried to counterbalance the melodrama with humour. There’s the opening sequence that has Jamie locked out of his dressing room in a towel (The bathroom leads to the hallway? Really?) and being chased by fans, for instance. Lame. Or how about the scintillating dialogue between Jamie and Diana when he stalks her and follows her into a restaurant. They get into a testy conversation that leads them to this pearl:

Jamie: “What kind of music do you like?”

Diana: “Tony Bennett.”

Jamie: “Jesus…”

Diana: “No… Tony Bennett!”

This was actually a serious retort to his response; it’s only meant to be funny to us. Sigh… I die a little bit inside each time. There are also the many jokes about contracting herpes. Diana does it, Jamie does it, and even Diana’s dad does it too. Herpes is no laughing matter to start with, so I don’t know how the filmmakers thought this would win over a PG-13 audience. In any case, it also makes you wonder just how sane these people really are. Weirdos.

Not only are the dialogues horrible, but the delivery sucks, starting with Janet Eilber, as Diana. She made the character uptight, stuffy, and yet a bit volatile, in a ‘Mommie Dearest‘ sort of way. How she can be all serious one moment and then crack her tightly wound face for a forced laugh is beyond me. Having to watch her dance goofily to one of Jamie’s songs (even though she hates rock) just takes the cake. Unsurprisingly, Eilber has done little else since.

Then there’s Springfield himself. He has a few convincing, natural moments, but he’s frequent asked to play up the emotional content of scenes and, when that happens, he’s pretty awful. The worst of them must be when he hires a Tony Bennett look-a-like and mock sings along. Die, die!!! Kill, kill!!! It took me a while to put my finger on it, but his acting style is like Roberto Benigni’s – except, for good or bad, with a lot more butt shots. A lot more.

And even if his performance had been stellar, the role of Jamie Roberts is a dog: the guy acts like a teen boy in an adult body, is emotionally unstable, has a poor work ethic, poor sense of responsibility, and he stalks the women he has an eye on (and wins them over – a great lesson for the kids). The guy is a freakin’ immature jerk. Aside for his winning smile and backside, there’s really not much going for him. And we’re supposed to root for him?

If Springfield was hoping that his concert bits would make up for it, perhaps legitimize him, he was mistaken: they are constructed too poorly for that. Heck, even the closing concert bit is weak: for some reason, the filmmakers saw fit to start with a lame instrumental bit (and not even in its complete form), then cut away momentarily before returning for the finale of “Love Somebody”. They didn’t start strong and then they ended in haste.

Couldn’t they have given fans a good three-song performance, at least? Granted, they had already used up Springfield’s new songs throughout the picture, but they could have used some of his earlier hits, even if they’re not “Jamie Roberts” songs. He could simply have told the crowd something along the lines of “You probably know this one already” and kicked into tracks from his previous effort, ‘Living in OZ’, and maybe sneak in a track from ‘Working Class Dog’.

Not only would it have blurred the line and transitioned Jamie into Rick (which is what the fans wanted to see anyway), it could arguably have passed as Jamie doing Springfield covers to close the set. Plus which it would have helped push sales of his previous albums. I honestly have no idea why they didn’t do this, as the ‘Hard to Hold’ soundtrack was released on RCA records just like his recent solo efforts. It certainly wasn’t a contract issue. Stupid.

It’s a totally lost opportunity to close the film on a strong note; “Love Somebody” is a strong track, but it can’t be the only track in a concert finale. To add insult to injury, the script suggests that it’s a new song that no one’s heard before – and everyone is blown away with it, dispelling Jamie’s writer’s block instantly (who knows when he found the time to write it, though). But… um.. if it’s new, how did the band manage to play along with him?

Hell, what can you expect from ‘Hard to Hold’, which at best could be described as having all the qualities of $#itty TV movie? It features an implausible relationship, poor performances, a non-plot, and some of the worst filmmaking to blemish the silver screen. The only thing that makes up for it are the exclusive tracks by Springfield, who hammered out a couple of splendid numbers here. Beyond that it’s hard to hold down your lunch while watching it.

To think that Rick passed on a secondary role in ‘The Right Stuff’ to star in his own movie. Man… worst career move ever!

Date of viewing: May 17, 2015

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