Near the end of Brett Haley’s Hearts Beat Loud, record store owner Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) and his landlord Leslie (Toni Collette) talk about how great Animal Collective’s “My Girls” is. The song’s lyrics state, “I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things, like a social status. I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls.” No wonder Frank loves the song. It fits him like a glove.
As the owner of the failing Red Hook Records, Frank has given up caring about his shop or monetary concerns. His only worry is his daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons), who after the summer will be moving across the country to study pre-med at UCLA. The only times we see Frank with a genuine smile on his face is during “jam sess time” with Sam, where Frank can see his daughter’s brilliant talents, and where he can make his dreams of becoming a professional musician come true. In his one last summer with his daughter, Frank’s interest in making music with Sam increases, as the two record music together under the awful name “We’re Not A Band” and Frank sees how far their duo could go in just a few months.
Haley – co-writing with his frequent collaborator Marc Basch – crafts an earnest, sweet, and charming story in Hearts Beat Loud that centers around a father’s love for his daughter. It’s hard not to smile when Offerman and Clemons unite over their shared love of music, and their few performances together – especially their final one – is heartwarming and simply wonderful. Haley and Basch, however, forget to add any real urgency to their story. While Hearts Beat Loud has every element that one would expect fro a typical indie comedy – and sure, it is that – it’s the film’s sense of heart and phenomenal music that makes it a tad better than the genre’s usual fare.
What makes Haley and Basch’s script so odd is that the stakes for the film are inherently there, but they don’t quite do anything with them. Red Hook Records is going out business and Frank has money problems, which will only increase once Sam goes to college. Frank is also becoming romantically interested in his taken landlord, and Frank’s mother Marianne (Blythe Danner) is starting to lose her mind with age. That is to say nothing of the death of Frank’s wife and Sam’s mother that has hung heavily over the pair for years. Yet little is done with many of these threads, they’re just sort of… there.
The closest to any real tension comes from the relationship between Frank and Sam. When Sam’s mother died, the two became best friends. Yet as Sam grew up, Frank stayed in a younger mentality, making Sam the real adult in the relationship. This dynamic is almost like a more realistic version of Gilmore Girls. Despite how frustrated Sam might get with Frank though, once they start playing music together, all that fades away.
When it comes to the music, Hearts Beat Loud is at its undeniable best. With incredible songs by Keegan Dewitt, Hearts Beat Loud musically is reminiscent of the instant catchiness of John Carney’s films, particularly Sing Street. Clemons performing these songs is powerful and a joy to watch. She’s a remarkable talent, and given Dewitt’s music, the combination is electric.
Strangely, Hearts Beat Loud is hit-or-miss when it comes to the realities of making music. Once We’re Not A Band records their first song, Frank posts it to Spotify and almost immediately hears it playing at a nearby coffee shop. The apparent popularity of this song leads them to receive potential representation and an offer to perform at a concert venue. All of this occurs with little effort from Frank, other than figuring out how to send a song to Spotify. Yet one of Hearts Beat Loud’s best sequences comes from the creative process of making music. On Sam’s first date with Rose (American Honey’s Sasha Lane), her potential love interest says she should listen to Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl.” After listening to the song, Sam is inspired to craft a song utilizing elements from her budding new relationship. It’s a sequence that could’ve played as silly, but as with most if Hearts Beat Loud, it’s the overwhelming heart on display that wins out.
Hearts Beat Loud’s warmth and excellent music makes it a step above the usual indie Sundance comedies, with a tremendous heart that shadows the film’s missteps.