Rick Springfield’s Notorious Rock Drama Sinks
DIRECTED BY LARRY PEERCE/1984
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: FEBRUARY 23, 2021/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
Advertising: “Rick Springfield is… HARD TO HOLD.”
Truth in Advertising: “HARD TO HOLD is hard to take”.
Thirty-seven years later, it’s not exactly breaking news that Hard to Hold, rock luminary Rick Springfield’s official big screen premiere and star vehicle, is not good. But no amount of faintly remembered residual chatter nor any degree of forgiving morbid curiosity could prepare one for the disjointed slog that this movie truly is. Hard to Hold is honestly one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.
The questions are many, and insanely overarching. Did Rick Springfield and his management honestly think that this cardboard incoherent showcase should be his next step?? Why does any character do anything that they do in this story?? “Story” seems generous… Yeah, it’s the old “boy gets girl/boy loses girl/boy gets girl back again” bit, but none of it meshes. Every character is emotionally unpredictable from one scene to the next. They’re all grossly prone to hair-trigger, manufactured mood swings.
Even by ultra-low standards of 1980s MTV-spawned junk cinema (Flashdance, Purple Rain), this is bottom of the barrel. If it’s a positive to say that Hard to Hold looks and feels very 1984, then that’s one of the only good things that can be said about it.
One other good thing would be the professionalism with which leading lady Janet Eilber gets through this. Eilber plays child psychologist Diana Lawson, the woman Springfield’s rock star character (a big stretch there) James Roberts (they managed to come up with a name even more generic than “Rick Springfield”) falls helplessly in love with. Diana is professional, successful, sophisticated, and thoroughly uninterested.
As written, Diana proceeds to fall in and out of love with James about seventeen times, almost every time on an unspoken whim. In between those instances, she is saddled with comedy relief scenes that undercut everything positive about her. Eilber, in playing this malarkey, does remarkably well. The many unmotivated mood swings and schtick are a big ask for any actor, and she’s never not adorable.
Springfield is another story. Though he’s gone on to star in no shortage of film and television, this is a wooden character in a wooden project designed exclusively to dramatically ask as little of him as possible. The movie begins and ends with concert performances, showcasing his hit song “Love Somebody”. (The song’s music video, in which a Hard to Hold film editing session turns into a rock n’ roll tsunami, is far more amusing than the movie proper).
After their car accident meet-cute, he follows up by not only replacing her car, but essentially stalking her. When she rebukes him by yelling that she prefers the music of Tony Bennet over rock n’ roll, he turns up that night outside her second story window with a full orchestra and a Tony Bennett impersonator. He’s failed to realize that there’s nothing for him to do in this sidewalk performance by grin up at her and gesture “ta-dah!” over and over. She is of course charmed.
In and around that, he glowers about his nondescript troubles with the band, which hinges on his scowling ex, another singer played by Patti Hansen (who married Rolling Stone Keith Richards that same year). Hansen, to her credit, gives off a real spirit of anger and even hostility throughout the picture. Her jealousy and rage outbursts are arbitrary and murky, but she sure is mad.
But mostly, it’s James chasing Diana. Silly outfits (a full white naval dress uniform?) and weird dates (old people singing traditional music in a crowded restaurant??) abound. After a tender night of passion, she informs him that it was “just sex”, and that he must go so she can get to work. He retaliates by throwing a rock through her window. The next time we see them together, it’s as though this outburst never happened.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ recent Blu-ray release of Hard to Hold makes good on one of the film’s biggest selling points, its soundtrack. The music is powerfully presented, overpowering the mundane rest of the audio in the film. Visually, Hard to Hold is in keeping with that dark and grainy mid-1980s aesthetic so ubiquitous in music videos of the time. The high-definition transfer handles this chronic darkness impressively well.
Bonus features include eleven radio spots, trailers, and an info-packed audio commentary with entertainment journalist and author Bryan Reesman. Reesman can be a little hard to keep up with, but per his non-dismissal of the film, he’s obviously the right person for this job. Additionally, director Larry Peerce has a short video interview on his experiences making the film. Peerce never throws the project under the bus, but he does spend several minutes upfront detailing how an incoming studio exec insisted that they shoot a half-finished screenplay, and how the non-discipled lives of real rock stars doesn’t mesh well with the disciplinary demands of filmmaking.
Obviously, Rick Springfield fans are the primary audience for this Blu-ray release, and they ought to be plenty pleased. If the movie’s IMDb user reviews are any indication, they’ve made a practice of defending Hard to Hold for years. It’s notable, though, that even Springfield in subsequent years has acknowledged it as tripe. It’s difficult to view Hard to Hold as anything more than a vehicle for his rock star literal ass. (His bare butt is showcased prominently more than once). As novel as it is for a male to be the object of the camera’s objectifying gaze, Hard to Hold can’t even hold together on that level. Like the performance Springfield gives at the end of the movie, it feels like a one-song concert… and the song isn’t great.