Hard to Hold

June 7, 2011

The first 40 minutes or so of Hard to Hold were the most surprising minutes I’ve spent watching film all year. No, the movie isn’t daring, or otherwise unconventional. But I walked in expecting to see pop star Rick Springfield do an ego number in what would probably be an extended MTV video performance.

Instead, what I saw bore an astonishing resemblance to a real movie. The film begins with Springfield (as a rock star, of course) getting involved in some slapstick business after a concert. He’s running around the halls with nothing on but a towel and an earring (a sight that provoked much high-pitched squealing from some of the younger members of the audience—and probably some of the older ones, too).

Driving home—home is San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, where he’s staying while putting together an album—he smacks into another car, which as these, things happen, is driving by a very lovely woman (Janet Eilber). She’s never heard of him, and she’s not too happy about the car, but he’s smitten. Naturally, a courtship ensues, and her hard-to-get routine becomes less and less convincing, even to her.

We know she’s won over when we see her put on a tape of this guy’s music, and she starts to boogie around her prim, tidy office. It’s an ebullient solo number enhanced by the fact that Eilber spent years as a professional dancer before breaking into the movies.

There’s buoyancy and an energy in these early scenes that is thoroughly infectious. Not only are the events amusing and romantic, but you actually get the sense these people had fun making this movie. That’s the kind of thing that is very tough to fake.

Eilber is quite good, and Spingfield has a comfortable, natural screen presence. He seems especially at ease playing comedy, which is useful, since there’s a rowdy kind of fun that sparks the first half of the film.

Director Larry Peerce, who has always been an actor’s director, may have helped provide the congenial atmosphere. But he lets the movie slip into a slow pace during the last hour or so; people sit around and talk about whether they’re ready to commit to a relationship, or settle down, or find themselves. That may be fine in another movie, but it’s jarring here.

Someone’s taken a pair of scissors to this last hour. Every once in a while a conversation will begin that you know should go on for a little longer; then an abrupt cut, and on to the next scene. Apparently, the more serious material was considered too heavy for the kind of audience the film will probably attract. That may be true. I just wish we had stayed in that first movie, which was starting to look like a bona fide sleeper.

First published in the Herald, April 7, 1984

I have never heard of anyone else who shared my enthusiasm for the opening sequences of this movie, nor have I lost sleep over the matter. But there it is. Springfield had his moment as a pretty-boy music idol, and “Jessie’s Girl” has worked its way into enough retro soundtracks to earn its place as a bad-good classic. Janet Eilber was indeed a dancer and is now the Artistic Director of the Martha Graham Company, which is not something you’d ordinarily predict for the leading lady of a picture like this. Patti Hansen also has a good role in this movie, her last film credit (she cast her lot with marriage to Keith Richards, which must have resulted in at least as interesting a life as movie stardom would have brought her). For someone with such a strange filmography, Larry Peerce worked as steadily in the business as any director has a right to (Goodbye, Columbus; Two-Minute Warning; “Batman” episodes; and many a TV-movie) and must have a story to tell.