Audiences will be enchanted by Clemons and Offerman’s astounding chemistry.
It you see as many films as the average critic it’s easy to harden your heart and become apathetic. But on rare occasions, something magical happens; a movie comes along that leaves you breathless, gives you goosebumps and lifts your spirits, and reminds you why you fell in love with movies in the first place. So it is with Brett Haley’s musical drama, Hearts Beat Loud. This story of a father’s love for his daughter and the music that fills their souls is as sweet and lively as the songs are infectious. With an utterly charismatic cast held up by the one-two punch of Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons, you’ll want this movie to ring inside you!
Frank Fisher (Offerman) is a record store owner who’s about to lose his business and his child at the same time. His daughter Sam (Clemons) is going off to college, marking their first separation since her birth. The two share a mutual love of music, and while having a “jam session” one night they conjure up a song. Believing the song could change their lives, Frank puts it online, leading the two to question their decisions and come together one more time.
Surface comparisons can be made to other musical bonding movies, particularly the work of John Carney, helmer of Once and Begin Again. The difference lies in how Brett Haley – co-writing with Marc Basch – handles the different relationships as well as the integration of music. Frank and Sam are introduced with little need to extrapolate on who they are. Frank is the type of over-40s dad who appreciates Spotify’s “New Indie Mix” and doesn’t hover around his college-bound daughter. Sam is a medical student falling in love with the free-spirited Rose (Sasha Lane); both Sam and Frank mourn the loss of their mother/wife, respectively, in a biking accident. The characters are just simple enough to bond them to the audience, but not complex enough that the script has to waste precious time with exposition, and sometimes that’s just fine.
Especially when the movie thrives on its music. Frank has never gotten over his time as a burgeoning music star, and it’s a love he’s fostered in Sam, who explains that her dad’s tried to form a band with her since she was a kid. This impromptu jam session is one they’ve seemingly done countless times – and here it’s meant to mark their soon-to-pass separation. What transpires, artfully captured in a rapid montage that builds as the title track is composed, is nothing short of magical. Haley and cinematographer Eric Lin beautifully capture the creative process, from the excitement on Sam’s face when she’s getting a sound she likes to Frank’s commitment to getting the guitar licks right. This is a story about the power that music has on individuals, families and communities in a way that doesn’t feel like we’re watching an industry insider. Yes, Frank could be considered an aging hipster, dropping references to bands like Animal Collective as if it’s nothing, but there’s a unity in all the characters who like what they like and can engage with each other despite their differences. The film’s wondrous climactic concert skillfully blends music with the emotions that have built up over the film’s 97-minute runtime. If we can do that with music, why can’t we do that with other things?
Haley and Basch emphasize heredity–Sam comes from a musically inclined family. Does she have a moral obligation to build on the talents her parents passed down to her? What’s unique about the script is that, unlike the typical relationship of a young girl with dreams of stardom being tamped down by her realistic father, we get the opposite. Sam loves medicine and music, yet understands that the life of a musician is fraught with trouble.
Kiersey Clemons’ bright smile and expressive eyes display a liveliness that comes through her performance. Her first meeting with Rose – played with equal spontaneity by Sasha Lane – conveys the heady mix of emotions when you’re taken in by someone who turns your life upside down. Their relationship isn’t fully developed, but it comes off like the perfect summer romance you wish was longer.
Since Sam’s mentality is that of a fun participant, the script’s emotional core is Frank’s adjustment to life without his daughter. Though Frank’s record store is closing, he starts to fall for his landlady, Leslie (Toni Collette). Their relationship suffers the typical pratfalls of a burgeoning romance after several years of celibacy; Frank gets jealous of a friend in Leslie’s life, and questions his sense of independence considering her occupation. It’s a typical setup–but Collette and Offerman aren’t typical actors. Collette is likeable, but it’s hard not to believe anyone could have played Leslie. Offerman is the real wild card; his Frank is a dreamer who wants his daughter to take chances, or at least know that he’s there to provide encouragement if she wants to. He plays the dad we all wish we could have – one willing to pick up a guitar and perform, yet still able to lay down the speech about “living under my roof” and adhering to his rules.
Hearts definitely beat loud, and they do it in the best way! Haley’s father/daughter musical is a lyrical portrait of how relationships are composed. Not unlike its captivating soundtrack, audiences will be enchanted by Clemons and Offerman’s astounding chemistry. You’ll be remembering the emotions (and humming the tunes) for a long time.