An odd thing happened while I was watching the sweet, small-scale Hearts Beat Loud. Though I was enjoying myself, after about 20 minutes I realized I could stop watching at any time and be perfectly happy. I really didn’t care much what happened next (and I could predict a lot of it).The mild, music-driven comedy-drama is the latest from director Brett Haley, whose writing partner is Marc Basch. Coming after I’ll See You in My Dreams and Hero, the filmmakers seem to be specializing in likable, disposable, middle-brow indies featuring middle-aged and older actors (like Blythe Danner and Sam Elliott), who probably appreciate the work in their late-stage careers.
Here the star is Parks and Recreation’s Nick Offerman as Frank, a onetime wannabe rocker who cut one album in his unlined youth but now works behind the counter at the vinyl shop he owns in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Once married to a bandmate who died in a biking accident over 10 years ago, he’s solo dad to Sam (Kiersey Clemons), a driven student spending her summer at a pre-med class in preparation for heading to her freshman year at UCLA in the fall. (We first meet her in class, answering questions about the human heart; Hearts Beat Loud has one of those scripts that hits its central imagery pretty hard.)
In the movie’s main novelty, conventional father/daughter, conservative/carefree roles are reversed. Frank pesters Sam in the evening, coercing her to put aside her studies for their nightly “jam sesh,” when they freeform on keyboard and guitar and try out new material. The name of Sam’s latest song, one of several pleasant-enough alt-pop tunes given plenty of screen time, supplies the movie with its title (there’s that imagery again). It’s a plus that Clemons is as charming an actor as she is a singer. On top of that, she’s beautiful — something an artist named Rose (Sasha Lane) doesn’t fail to notice, leading to a lesbian flirtation that’s as pleasant and perfectly safe as the rest of the movie.
But no, the movie settles into a quiet chamber drama, with Nancy, Leo and Ellen interacting for several days and nights at close quarters. Yet what should be psychologically compelling remains weirdly muted. Writer-director Christina Choe seems to be most interested in making us wonder what’s really going on here, less interested in whether or not we care about the results.
Watch the video for “Hearts Beat Loud” below, and read the Paste review of the movie right here
Frank Fisher (a never-better Nick Offerman) is in love with music; everything about it excites him and ignites a story involving his past. However, he’s fallen out of love with selling music, as in records at his classic vinyl shop that is seeing rent rise and customers decrease. Frank is so old school that he smokes a cigarette inside the store when it is clearly against the rules. He doesn’t care about the rules, because in his eyes, music has no rules. He also drinks cheap beer and straight bourbon.
What Frank would like to do is make music with his daughter, the brilliant Sam (Kiersey Clemons), who is about to leave for medical school, but has an incredible voice that shouldn’t be wasted. This father-daughter connection is the heart and soul of Brett Haley’s Hearts Beat Loud, a heartwarming flick that combines flavors of John Carney’s Begin Again with Jon Favreau’s Chef. This is the kind of movie that will honestly make you feel good while making you blow the dust off your record player for an impromptu night of tunes, awaking something inside of you that needed attention.
Haley’s secret ingredient in storytelling is simplicity and restraint. We don’t have to know Frank’s entire backstory and what makes him tick, because the filmmakers are going to tell us over the course of 97 minutes. As he did with Sam Elliott in The Hero and Blythe Danner (who has a sweet supporting role here) in I’ll See You in My Dreams, Haley gives a versatile actor the role of a lifetime with Offerman and Frank.
Offerman gives such a convincing performance that it makes you want to go looking for Frank in New York. You think he’s out there, popping cynical anecdotes off like he flicks cigarette ashes on the street. While he won’t win an Oscar or make you reevaluate what determines cornerstone acting, the actor slips on the tired soul of this retired musician like a broken-in pair of sneakers. Unlike an actor trying to find his way into a role like a drunk would wander around the perimeter of his apartment building, Offerman’s take on Frank feels lived in and not forced. Haley gave him a fine side piece on The Hero, but serves him an entire pie here. I hope they continue to work together.
Clemons more than holds her own with Offerman, playing a diligent young woman who can’t decide between momentary bliss with her father or a future that looks like a perfectly made, if boring, bed. Sam also happens to be in love with Rose (Sasha Lane), which further complicates her desire to relocate across the country. What if art was knocking on your door even though a proven, if lonely, career was honking the horn outside in a car ready to uproot your entire life? Clemons makes you feel that pain.
I liked how the ending didn’t tie a neat bow on things, instead leaving them open to interpretation and conversation. That’s a brave stroke that permeates through the film. The running time flies by, feeling more like a tease than a “check your watch” convention. As the credits approach, you feel them and wish there was more time with Frank, Sam, Dave and Leslie. The special films make you feel that, like there’s a second chapter that won’t be forced upon your plate, but thought about soon enough.
Hearts Beat Loud is one of the warmest films I’ve seen in a long time and one of the best of 2018. It preaches hope without beating you over the head with a message and calms your soul with the music it presents. Instead of being a mere crutch, the songs exist as supporting actors carrying their own weight. Like Jeff Nichols, Brett Haley makes simplistic, yet potent, indie films. There are no costumes or special effects. Just people playing music as if it aided their hearts. Wherever Haley goes next, I’m following. You should to.