Hearts Beat Loud – movie review

Cinema and music have always had a symbiotic relationship. A soundtrack is often a highlight of a feature film, while musicians use visual media to promote their product and in their live shows. It’s hardly surprising then that filmmakers would be drawn to music as a subject. And while, say, Almost Famous examined music stardom; Hearts Beat Loud deals with the dreams of those on the fringes.

Technological changes have led to the contemporary music scene becoming fractured into many sub-genres. Here one of those dominates. The film name-drops the likes of Songs Ohia and Iron & Wine; so if you know who they are, you’ll know pretty much what to expect. But this gently observed film says as much about aging and generational change as it does about music.

Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) runs a (maybe the last) record store in the Red Hook neighbourhood of Brooklyn. His daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is preparing to head off to college in Los Angeles in a few weeks. In the rapidly gentrifying area, Frank’s particular brand of old-school service isn’t cutting it any more. So he notifies his landlord Leslie (Toni Collette) he’ll be closing up shop when his lease expires. But Frank used to be a musician himself, and he still dabbles. When an impromptu jam session with Sam leads to a pretty decent recording, Nick posts it to Spotify. To everyone’s surprise, it’s featured in a playlist and becomes a minor hit. Could this turn around Frank’s fortunes?

While the music (much of it composed by Keegan DeWitt) provides the backdrop, at its core Heart Beats Loud is about a father letting go of his now-adult daughter. Frank puts on a cool facade, but you can tell the thought of Sam moving across the county is tearing him up. The impending closure of the store only compounds his uncertainty.

Director Brett Haley does a pretty good job of keeping all the balls in the air. At times though, he drops one. These missteps involve shoehorning songs into the plot for no (apparent) reason other than to play the song. This slows the pacing considerably. But while he might err occasionally, he provides plenty of highlights as well. He neatly observes several crucial scenes; and his use of Eric Lin’s clean cinematography is excellent.

Nick Offerman plays Frank as a gentler version of Ron Swanson, his character in Parks and Recreation. The gruffness is there, but modulated by empathy. Toni Collette (Hereditary) is under-utilised but still fine as Leslie. The supporting cast includes Ted Danson (The Good Place) as Frank’s bar-owner buddy; Sasha Lane (American Honey) as Sam’s romantic interest; and Blythe Danner (Little Fockers) as Frank’s deteriorating mother. But Hearts Beat Loud really belongs to Kiersey Clemons (Bad Neighbours 2) as Sam. She’s really the focal point of the film. She deftly captures the character’s mix of bravado and insecurity. Plus, she and Offerman actually performed and recorded all the original music on set.

While it’s certainly not splashy, Hearts Beat Loud delivers its message with understated verve. A couple of rough spots can’t detract from its overall impact. Maybe it won’t blow you away, but this is the kind of film to bring a wry smile to your face.

Director: Brett Haley
Cast: Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Toni Collette
Release Date: 6 September 2018 (limited)
Rating: M

David Edwards

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