Sometimes you don’t want to be challenged by a film, you want something that will take you on an endearing journey and leave you feeling pleasant and upbeat. Hearts Beat Loud does just that. It’s a light-hearted family dramedy, an indie film which feels, at times, like a vehicle for director Brett Haley to reference all of his favourite, obscure bands from the late 90s. Despite the shaky territory, the film mostly avoids melodrama, instead focusing on the strong chemistry between Kiersey Clemons and Nick Offerman as daughter Sam and father Frank respectively. The film threatens to raise serious issues such as the impact of gentrification, but these never fully interrupt the fixed sweet course that the story is on.
In the trendy neighbourhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn, Frank is coming to terms with the fact that he needs to sell the record store he’s owned for the last 17 years. Nobody comes anymore and as one customer informs him, he can “get it way cheaper on Amazon”. I thought hipsters loved vinyl but not enough apparently to splash out in Frank’s shop. His daughter Sam is far more mature, taking pre-med classes before she moves across the country to start college after the summer. She has dreams of becoming a doctor and attaining a much more stable income than her childish father, who she often has to look after.
As Sam tries to study, the exuberant Frank pesters her into a jam sesh with him and in the matter of a montage they have produced a song which Frank surreptitiously uploads to Spotify under the cringeworthy name “We’re Not a Band”. Soon their song racks up some thousands of plays and Frank decides they have what it takes to become a huge band. Sam, however, is set on med school, the band is her dad’s dream, not hers. Here lies the crux of the film’s conflict as father and daughter argue about which future is best. More pressingly for Sam though is her girlfriend Rose (Sasha Lane), a local artist who will be left behind when Sam leaves for California.
Hearts Beat Loud just about manages to toe the line between sweet and cheesy quite well. Sam and Rose’s relationship is nice, though there are some moments which feel a little much, particularly an elongated bike ride through Brooklyn. The emotions on show are all very obvious but that doesn’t stop them making you feel nice. Kiersey Clemons is brilliant as Sam, demonstrating enough disdain for her uncool father to be a convincing teenager whilst also showing a cowed appreciation for her father’s enthusiasm. Nick Offerman shows that he can do more than just comedy with a genuinely tender performance as Frank, the Parks and Recreation star’s fatherly pride and internal turmoil over his daughter’s impending departure is subtly etched onto his face throughout.
The other characters in Hearts Beat Loud, with the exception of Rose, seem a little thin. Dave (Ted Danson) is the local barman, he has a penchant for marijuana and clings to a singular performance on Broadway from years before. He seems to be Frank’s only friend, though it’s unclear whether that’s because the others have been priced out of the area or Frank just has no pals. Toni Collette plays Leslie, Frank’s landlord and part-time love interest. Collette is great, but she doesn’t have much to go on as the sympathetic Leslie with limited screen time. Frank’s senile, shoplifting-prone mother also makes an appearance though her whole subplot is rather forgotten amongst the music making montages. The original music by Keegan DeWitt is all enjoyable enough, but you can’t help but feel like it seems too much like music made for a film about music, rather than that of a real band.
Hearts Beat Loud won’t change the world but it is enjoyable if easy film. The music is fun, the performances good and the questioning kept to a minimum. The emotions are all rather black and white but that doesn’t stop them from bringing a guilty smile to your face.
Ewan Wood | ★★★1/2
Drama, Music | USA, 2018 | 12A | Edinburgh Film Festival | 3rd August 2018 (UK Cinema) | Dir.Brett Haley | Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Ted Danson, Toni Collette, Sasha Lane, Blythe Danner