Sometimes you'll hear a song and, embarrassingly, for no discernible reason, you'll get misty eyed. Try as you might, the attempts at holding back or quelling the mini-wells under your eyes will only get worse with every vain attempt at saving face. That came to mind while watching Brett Haley's Hearts Beat Loud. The key song in the film has a sweetness to it. You'll definitely taste that sweetness, maybe even get a little misty eyed yourself, but it won't rot your teeth or give you the Wilford Brimleys.
You could say that Hearts Beat Loud is a lot like that one pop song that gets you every time. You know the verses well, you can feel the chord changes, you know where the chorus will go, you know how long it will go but, that doesn't matter because it still gets the job done regardless — feels and all.
As the film opens, Frank (Nick Offerman), a widower who owns a vinyl-record store in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn, smokes a cigarette while a customer complains about his smoking. When Frank refuses to extinguish his cig, the customer chides him by pointing out he just bought an album cheaper online. Having been a record store employee/unintentional music snob in ye olde '90s, maybe it was the memories of aimless 20-minute conversations about the Nixon reference in Frank Zappa's "Titties And Beer" or pondering the feud between Uncle Tupelo's Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar while vainly trying to convince a customer they should choose The Coup's Kill My Landlord over Snow's 12 Inches Of Snow that quickly drew me to the film. While I was hooked from that moment on, a nostalgic record store setting doesn't mean I'll be engaged in the film (i.e. Empire Records).
From there we meet Frank's warm-hearted landlord (Toni Collette), his bartender/best friend (Ted Danson), his shoplifting mom (Blythe Danner) and Frank's daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons). Frank is closing his shop after 17 struggling years while Sam is heading to UCLA to become a doctor.
- Courtesy Gunpowder & Sky
During one of the daddy-daughter jam sessions, a weekly ritual that gives Frank more fulfillment than Sam, the two wind up accidently recording a song. Frank uploads the song, "Hearts Beat Loud," a duet with Sam on vocals, to Spotify and before too long it lands on a popular playlist. When Frank randomly hears the song at a coffeehouse he frequents, he, despite his daughter's disinterest, pursues his formerly dorment musical ambitions. Here is where the film's central conflict comes in. Sam sees her father as stuck in a selfish, permanent Peter Pan mode while Frank sees her as being way too serious for her age. Will father and daughter work it out? Will Frank and the landlord start a relationship? Will Sam and her new squeeze last? Will their song top the charts? I won't say — but the film's journey was definitely worth it.
There are many things you could find to love about the film, from Haley and his co-writer's (Marc Basch) lively characters to cinematographer Eric Lin's strong use of colors to its soundtrack. It could also be the title song that father and daughter compose together; it's good enough that you could see it capturing ears (Sam has a kickass set of pipes on her). Maybe the film's appeal also lies with the character of Offerman's lovable curmudgeon Frank. His perma-scowl helps keep Haley's film from riding off into the saccharine sunset. It's a testament that when he flashes a rare smile, the viewer can actually feel it. The other performances range from serviceable to great. Toni Collette's sunny Leslie is the perfect antithesis to her recent role in Ari Aster's awesomely bleak horrorfest Hereditary. Danson and Danner do their thing well. Sasha Lane is effective as Rose, the apple of Sam's eye. More than anything, it's Kiersey Clemons who steals the show as Sam — she captures the young woman's frustration and joy with the greatest of ease. The scenes between her and Offerman are wonderful.
Walking into Hearts Beat Loud, don't be surprised if you know how everything plays out. You may know one character will be momentarily unkind to the other. You may know there will be a complication regarding this one thing. You know that the wounds suffered in the journey will heal. You may know that smiles will abound when the credits roll.
Hearts Beat Loud is just one of those quiet, restrained pop songs. While it doesn't call attention to itself with bombast or spectacle, you'll get the feels, and maybe even the misty eyes, anyway.
Hearts Beat Loud — Rated PG-13. Directed by Brett Haley. Starring Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, and Sasha Lane.