If, based on the film’s title, you’d be inclined to give Hearts Beat Loud a pass for thinking it’s either going to be a saccharine musical dramedy or melodramatic tearjerker, you’d be forgiven.
Doing so, however, would result in you missing out on one of the more finely composed indies that turn to music as a means of bonding and familial healing. Affectionate performances by a star-studded cast, a (mostly) deft sidestepping of tired cliches and a few catchy melodies all go a long way to ensuring you’ll have a good -- if not quite grand -- time at the movies.
Crucial to the film’s success and story is the delicate chemistry between Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons (Transparent, Dope). Offerman (Parks and Recreations’ Ron Swanson) steps into the role of Frank Fisher with such ease that it belies the complexity of the part. A goofy and geeky father to Clemons’ Sam, he used to be in a band with his wife, Diane, before a cycling accident snatched her away. He now owns a record shop at the brink of closure but doesn’t seem all too bothered by the financial implications. His daughter gives meaning to his life and their jam sessions together remind Frank of his beloved and talented spouse.
Effectively, Hearts Beat Loud presents a scenario in which a father figure is reluctant to let his daughter go because, more than losing his little girl, it would also mean abandoning his own dreams of a musical career and (he believes) stifling his wife’s artistic spark that surges through Sam. Sam meanwhile is focused a little too singularly on a budding college career as she spends her last summer at home preparing for pre-med classes and reluctantly indulging Frank’s boyish fantasy of them forming a father-daughter band.
However, when one of their jams -- the title track ‘Hearts Beat Loud’ -- is too good not to share with the world and Frank uploads it to Spotify, the dream suddenly seems within reach, with a gig lining up and a record company rep ultimately eager for the pair to cut an EP. Frank rebrands the duo formerly known as ‘Samwich und Frank’ into ‘We’re Not a Band’ (Sam’s suggestion, of course) and what follows is a tango in which past and future struggle to synch up with the rhythm of life.
As Hearts Beat Loud progresses, music is the means through which Frank and Sam face lingering grief and explore future prospects, before learning that moving on can also be a matter of adapting to life-changing circumstances without the need to say goodbye. The film is free from false sentiment and in large part this is due to the excellent performances.
The film endeavors to present viewers with Frank and Sam’s multiple relationships and does so by efficiently setting up various supporting members but forgets to fully develop them. Blythe Danner feels wasted in the part of Sam’s grandmother who’s getting on in years and is becoming a responsibility the family needs to bear with. Sasha Lane is earnest but her character is one-dimensionally written. Lindsay, Sam’s new artist girlfriend, mainly serves the purpose of boosting self-confidence. Toni Collette (fine as always) gets the most fleshed-out B-story as Leslie, the landlady of the failing Red Hook Records and a potential love interest for Frank or friendly business associate with a plan to possibly revitalize the vinyl shop.
The fact that Hearts Beat Loud doesn’t make any grand statement and is confident enough to leave its leads in a place where both have experienced personal growth in the last pre-college days, but without the brightest of futures set in stone for either, speaks to writer-director Brett Haley’s credit as a keen observer of life. Hearts Beat Loud is an intimate and comfortingly familiar tale that hits the right notes, just so long as you can live with a low-key ditty and don’t expect any sweeping crescendo.