MOVIE REVIEW: Hearts Beat Loud
HEARTS BEAT LOUD-- 5 STARS
One winning quality of many that makes the Sundance darling Hearts Beat Loud so perfectly endearing is fleshed out by its very title. The deeply personal pulse that makes this movie tick is nourishment to the soul. Emotive and approachable relationship challenges written by the team of Marc Basch and director Brett Haley and a stirring soundtrack by Keegan DeWitt combine to make this shiniest of indie gems the anti-blockbuster of this summer. Absorb this film, with your eyes and ears open, and let its essence revitalize you the way it does its own characters.
The nimble nucleus of Hearts Beat Loud is the relationship between single father Frank Fisher and his daughter Sam as they reach difficult turning points in their lives. The dabbling musician Frank (Nick Offerman) has kept Red Hook Records open for the last 17 years in the well-worn Brooklyn neighborhood he calls home. He has raised the multi-talented Sam (Kiersey Clemons of Dope and The Only Living Boy in New York) after the death of his wife and her mother a little over ten years ago. She is finishing AP classes preparing to head across the country as an incoming Pre-Med freshman at UCLA. She is also reflectively enjoying her last summer with her engaging girlfriend Rose (Sasha Lane of American Honey).
Orbiting around this family unit are other individuals adding connective tissue to the narrative. Frank’s solo senior mother Marianne (Haley’s I’ll See You in My Dreams muse Blythe Danner) keeps getting pinched for careless shoplifting and likely needs supervised care, which he can’t afford. The appealing Leslie (current Hereditary star Toni Collette) is Frank’s landlady and an on-again/off-again romantic interest. Any combination of Frank’s sorrows are drowned over cold beers and spirits he shares at a local dive bar run by his good friend Dave (Ted Danson and all his frank coolness).
LESSON #1: ACCEPT OUR CIRCUMSTANCES AND ADAPT ACCORDINGLY — Clearly channeling his Sam Malone frequency, Danson delivers this lesson as a dose of pathos washed in ganja haze that couldn’t be truer as an overarching tone setter for Hearts Beat Loud. All things must change. We move on from the dreams of youth, and that’s life. Frank has a hard pair of goodbyes weighing on him. With brick-and-mortar becoming obsolete and the rent going up from Leslie, Frank resigns to the fate of closing his store at the end of the month around the same time he will need to let his daughter go move west. Sam too faces an inevitable and painful goodbye to Rose as their alluring and supportive relationship continues to grow.
Those challenges go away when Frank and Sam turn the microphones on, plug the computer sound mixer in, and pull out the instruments during their family jam sessions. With him on guitar and her on the keys, their combined songwriting and vocals align their skills and moods together to make something special. A song springs forth, “Hearts Beat Loud,” which Frank puts on Spotify under the name We’re Not a Band. When the single takes off, an inspirational window opens for Frank to selfishly relive glory days with Sam and present a choice for her between chasing dreams and solidifying her educational future.
LESSON #2: SHARE A CREATIVE ENDEAVOR — This ain’t The Partridge Family. Frank and Sam share serious chops of raw talent. Their jam sessions are quintessential quality time between father and daughter, something every parent should find, foster, and participate in with their kids, no matter the age or roots of activity. These two open up to talk themes, compare and expound ideas of flow between music and life, and express themselves creatively. Music is their means of collaboration and it is a rousing and beautiful thing in Hearts Beat Loud.
Nick Offerman continues to evolve as an actor beyond the Parks and Recreation act that made him famous. Offerman multiplies the open and accepting fatherly presence he showed as a supporting character in 2015’s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (another pitch perfect treasure). Showing unforeseen range (that’s really him on guitar) and tender softness under his bristly facial hair, this performance is undoubtedly his best to date. Like a true good father, the way his Frank lights up at the possibility of expressing and sharing his love and feelings is a special acting beat to witness.
Even greater than the headlining Offerman are each and every performance flourish of Kiersey Clemons. She is the contagious vibrancy of this film. Her sync with Offerman is honest, genuine, and refreshingly free of angst-y tropes. Often she’s the adult and he’s the child when their ambitions clash. Nevertheless, the way Sam looks at the world with her wide smile can emanate spirit equal to the emotional explosion of her singing. A true double threat, Clemons is an instantly captivating talent.
Brett Haley has made a living and breathing movie with sincere guts, sentimental conflict, and the attractive glow of dream fulfillment. Excellent structural and pacing support are provided by editor Patrick Colman (Other People) and cinematographer Eric Lin (I Smile Back) for a tight and composed piece. As an emerging filmmaker, Haley continues to improve his craft from I’ll See You in My Dreams and last summer’s festival favorite and Sam Elliott vehicle The Hero. Compared to those two, Hearts Beat Loud feels less like a collection of moments and more of a full and enriching experience that sticks with you.
Much like the artistic peak of Blythe Danner belting out Julie London’s “Cry Me a River” on a karaoke stage in I’ll See You in My Dreams, music stands as the lightning rod and Haley found a way to harness that energy for an entire film. In his third collaboration with Haley, singer-songwriter-composer Keegan DeWitt (Hunter Gatherer) deserves enormous credit for crafting the entire vibe from the underscore to the eclectic and moving duets. Sure, 2018 will include Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga putting their pipes together for A Star is Born and Emily Blunt channeling Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins Returns, but welcome to the “little engine that could” and your future deserving winner of Best Original Song at the 91st Academy Awards.
LESSON #3: GOOD MUSIC HAS FEELING BECAUSE IT COMES FROM FEELINGS — Personal beats impersonal every time. Hearts Beat Loud does not register without that poignant commitment from Offerman, Clemons, DeWitt, and the music they make together. Their songs outwardly express their current states and sensitivities, evoking strength together. For them, it’s for their own soothing release. Others get to hear it, but the effect wouldn’t change if it was an audience of thousands, a mere handful, or even zero. This film and soundtrack (embedded below) deserve far more than zero attention.