‘Hearts Beat Loud’ Celebrates the Special Connections Music Can Generate
“Hearts Beat Loud” tells the story of a father connecting with his eager daughter through their shared, inherited ears for the perfect note. It avoids tragedy and cliché plot points, instead using music as a link between the parent and offspring. There are so many movies and TV shows being made these days which want to be feel good experiences but use unbelievable premises. This movie is a warm and delightful experience, with good songs and a story that is so simple, but so inviting.
Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) runs a record store in New York City which is going through hard times. Business isn’t so hot, especially with the whole digital revolution ruining the industry. In the opening scene an angry customer mocks Frank by downloading an album, available in the store, into his phone from iTunes. Frank is one of those serene music lovers who are walking encyclopedias of bands, songs and release dates. His daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons) drops in for the summer as she gets ready to go to college at UCLA in California. Frank loves having her around, even if she’s distracted from already getting started on school work. He pushes her into participating in an old tradition of theirs, jamming together. To Frank’s surprise, Sam has been writing some songs as a hobby, and they happen to be really good. They decide to record one song out of what seems to be just for fun. But Frank decides to submit the recording to Spotify and soon enough it’s featured on an Indie Playlist. Suddenly fueled with enthusiasm, Frank tries to convince Sam that they are the real thing and could go somewhere as a band. But Sam is skeptical and wonders if Frank is simply getting lost in his dreams.
Director Brett Haley and co-writer Marc Basch have achieved a special little film here. This is the kind of movie you can enjoy by simply watching the characters live, share and get by. What makes it come together are the two wonderful, central performances by Offerman and Clemons. They both look and act like two real, distinctive personalities. Offerman’s Frank is the classic scruffy, down to earth dad who takes it easy and can’t comprehend Sam’s obsession with school. Frank is the polar opposite of the perfectionist, get your degree or be a failure parent. He knows his daughter has talent, and suspects she might live a more fulfilled life by pursuing it rather than marching down a practical road. He speaks like a refugee from the 1970s who just doesn’t get why his daughter lives stressed and at top speed all the time. Clemons as Sam is intelligent but impatient, prone to snapping at Frank in the way teenagers do when they feel they know better. But she’s not annoying, this is not a drama about a teen in crisis. It is a film about two lives being lived in a specific moment.
Even the romance in the film feels organic, flowing naturally without the need for gimmicks. Sam is gay and meets a local girl named Rose (Sasha Lane). Both are instantly attracted to each other and Haley films their moments alone together with such a sense of comfort and ease, their dialogue vibrant with the feel of two young people sharing a summer together. There is also a small romantic angle between Frank and the landlord, Leslie (Toni Collette). But Haley never makes it the center of the plot. When surprises happen no one panics and falls into despair, they simply handle the situation like experienced adults. Because the acting is so sincere and writing so subtle, simply feeling as if we are there with these characters is entertaining enough.
“Hearts Beat Loud” is also full of great music. The songs Frank and Sam write together are ethereal and full of beautiful, pop poetry. Like recent good movies about underdogs making music, such as “Sing Street,” part of this film’s charm is how the artistic process connects to the lives of the characters. For Frank and Sam music isn’t merely a pastime, through songwriting they discover a way to express their innermost feelings and memories. We see them tinker at the keyboard, strum notes and work at mixing and editing their tracks. Frank writes a beautiful ballad in memory of Sam’s mom, and Sam writes a lush love song inspired by her experiences with Rose. The final performance between the two, in the record store, is moving because this is what truly links them. The record store may close, Sam may or may not decide to leave for California, but they will always have these songs they wrote together. Haley is not repeating a rags to riches fantasy, he is telling a story about a father’s bond to his daughter, in an emerging world where anyone can record music and share it with the world.
“Hearts Beat Loud” defines family film better than most movies claiming the title. It is a simple story, easy to follow, but with much to express. It celebrates true bonds and how there are moments when a melody can say much more than words.
“Hearts Beat Loud” releases June 8 in select theaters.