By Jim Slotek
A sweet, slow-burn of a movie, Hearts Beat Loud never lets its drama level never go above, maybe, a six. But without a lot of noise, it allows us into the complicated lives of a father and daughter, who need to break free from each other.
Frank (Nick Offerman) is a record store owner who’s about to call it quits. He has a past as a wannabe rock star, and (in his mind) nearly made it on the strength of his late wife’s talent.
His daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is a whiz-kid with a med-school scholarship at UCLA. She also has her mom’s musical talent, and has learned to bond with her dad over tunes.
After one energy-filled jam that produces the title song, Frank secretly submits their sound-file to Spotify on a whim (the band’s name: We Are Not A Band, which is Sam’s frustrated response to Frank when he enthuses about what a great band they are).
Soon, the song Hearts Beat Loud is the global streaming service’s version of a hit. Ie: A lot of people are listening to it and adding it to their playlists, though it doesn’t really translate into money. (It's kind of meta that the song, by Keegan DeWitt, has actually become a Spotify playlist favourite via the film).
But hearing the song come out of the speakers at a shop in his neighbourhood of Red Hook is like a jolt of a long-forgotten drug for Frank. And soon he is imagining a do-over of the duo he had with his wife, but with his daughter (a kind of inappropriate stage-dad fantasy, really, but Offerman is such a lovable bear, we tend to forgive his delusion).
Director/co-writer Brett Haley may have found a calling with his oeuvre of sweet, low-wattage dramas that star terrific character actors - Blythe Danner in I’ll See You In My Dreams (which featured Sam Elliott), Sam Elliott in The Hero (which featured Nick Offerman). In each case, there is an element of gratitude from the star that suggests they’ll put 100% of everything into this rare shot at a protagonist’s role.
In the case of Offerman – who’ll always be Parks and Recreation’s Ron Swanson to many of us – keeping it real means dialing it down. His Frank is not a take-charge guy by nature, but he stands by his decisions. When he decides to pull the plug on his vinyl shop, his smitten landlady (an underused Toni Collette) offers to basically float his store financially. Despite their mutual attraction, he rejects the idea.
(Collette isn’t the only one along for too few scenes. Ted Danson glides good-naturedly pouring generous shots as Frank’s best buddy and bar owner. I just kept thinking how good it felt to see Cheers’ Sam Malone slinging drinks again).
As for Sam, the pressure Frank puts on her is quietly insane. There is almost no chance for them to become father-and-daughter pop stars, and there is every indication that she will make a great doctor. But she also has an arty girlfriend named Rose (Sasha Lane), who for romantically selfish reasons, wouldn’t mind seeing Sam turn down a scholarship either.
There are two main ways this could have been presented. Hearts Beat Loud could have been told from Sam’s point of view, given that she must let both her father and girlfriend down gently (a Hollywood studio would probably have preferred the demographic she would bring in). But the p.o.v. is mainly Frank’s. His acceptance of his daughter’s sensibility (which only ever wavers slightly) is the character arc in this low-impact drama.
What gives Hearts Beat Loud its life is the father-daughter interaction and chemistry between Offerman and Clemons. Their original jam session makes the audience sit up and take notice. And they have a final concert together that takes it up a notch. (Look for Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy – who is referenced in one of Frank’s High Fidelity-esque music-snob moments - as a customer/background actor).
Hearts Beat Loud. Directed and co-written by Brett Haley. Starring Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons and Toni Collette. Opens Friday, June 22 at Toronto’s Cineplex Varsity. Other Canadian dates to follow.