What is it that makes women in the movies even more crazy in love than Beyoncé in her hit song? Love the Hard Way provides no answers to this question, but, as its title hints, tells the story of a profoundly fucked-up relationship. Going 10 rounds — and a few more for good measure — are Jack (Adrien Brody) and Claire (Charlotte Ayanna), as unlikely a couple as there’s ever been.
Jack is a Grade A scalawag. By night he earns his bread running a hooker con on unsuspecting businessmen at an upscale New York hotel. By day he whiles away his hours at the movies, or secretly reading the rare books he collects, and writing autobiographical pulp fiction in the storage locker he’s made his office. He’s just the kind of sexy sleazeball that clean-cut biology majors at Columbia should stay away from but find themselves drawn to, especially in the movies. Claire proves to be no exception. She sees what Jack refuses to see: He is smart, too smart to continue what he’s doing forever.
But Claire’s own blind spots will be her downfall, just as Jack’s predilection for an easy life of crime will be his undoing. She doesn’t get that Jack enjoys his life, which is spent doing whatever he wants, whenever he wants, to whomever he wants. She calls him obsessively when he wants nothing to do with her; when he gives in and starts seeing her more regularly, she ignores what she knows about this con man and falls into a love trap she’s set for herself.
Claire’s story takes a turn down a dark path once she realizes that Jack will leave her to sink or swim. Love the Hard Way gets more unpleasant as she spirals deeper downward, and writer-director Peter Sehr loses control of what began as an intriguing, if not engaging, tale of relationship angst and joy. Part of this is the fault of Ayanna, who has an uncomfortable, Amy Irving-like stiffness even before her character shuts down emotionally. Brody, however, is wondrous as ever in his ability to ask for sympathy and forgiveness even when playing scum.
Love the Hard Way is middle-of-the-pack entertainment, but Brody continues to prove that his legend-making turn in last year’s The Pianist was no fluke.
Opens Friday at the Madstone Theatre, 462 Briarwood Circle, Ann Arbor. Call 734-994-1000.
Erin Podolsky writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.