Hearts Beat Loud is a feel-good with surprising heart and skillfully placed moment of moving melancholy (looking at you Blythe Danner). Clemons is winning and shines bright. Offerman carries the film with humor and dramatic chops we didn’t know he had in him.
Brett Haley’s filmography is filled with films that never quite work the way you think they should but always contain a few moments, small moments, or notes that are in no need of special effects or a pricey musical score to pull you in. His latest film, Hearts Beat Loud, practically bursts with heart, charm and has so many moments of beautiful melancholy I don’t think Ricky Fitts’s poor little heart could take it. Haley’s film is that rare coming-of-age story that doesn’t just focus on a teenager or child growing into a new stage in their lives but looking at adults coming into their own venerable age.
The films start with a widower and down on his luck record store owner Frank Fisher (Parks & Recreation’s Nick Offerman) telling his landlord Leslie (Hereditary’s Toni Collette) that he can’t afford the rent hike and will need to close his shop. Frank loves music, how he met his wife (Viola Davis, seen only in pictures, not even flashbacks), and has weekly “jam” sessions with his 17-year-old daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons), who is a gifted student, taking advanced pre-med courses over the summer before she starts UCLA in the fall so she can become a physician.
That fact influenced her when her mother died of a heart attack when she was a child. Frank also must care for his flighty mother (Blythe Danner) and drinks his sorrows away with a local bartender named Dave (appropriately played by Cheers alum Ted Danson). Sam has problems of her own, worrying about leaving her father behind and her new girlfriend Rose (American Honey’s Sasha Lane), who she hasn’t told her father about yet.
Haley’s film treats its characters with grounded respect and a script that never has a false note of disingenuousness, either to its characters or his audience. His film is perfectly cast; each of the main players stands out in some way. Clemons is winning here before this film was best known for playing Diggy in the 90’s hip-hop culture drama Dope and a handful of small roles in studio films. She doesn’t have a showy role but has the natural ability to communicate her feelings with a single look that shines brightly. Nick Offerman is a revelation here, carrying the film with the type of humor and deadpan delivery we come to expect from him while delivering the dramatic chops to pull off a role that includes raising a teenage daughter on his own and transitioning to the next part of his life without her.
Hearts Beat Loud also has two small but wonderfully effective roles by actors Ted Danson and Blythe Danner. Danson’s local bar owner Dave, and Frank’s closest (seems like only) friend, listens to his friend lament about his daughter leaving and not taking the potential opportunity of a music career seriously. Danson then delivers a line about the future to Frank that beautifully puts everything into perspective for him, and you are reminded what a gifted actor Danson can be. Earlier, in the film’s best scene, Danner recalls meeting Sam’s grandfather in a touching and ultimately moving retelling about love and loss. The role is small, equates to almost a cameo, but along with Harry Bellefonte’s powerful turn in BlacKkKlansman last year, it makes me wish the Academy would add an award for cameo appearances.
I saw Hearts Beat Loud over the summer last year, and the film still holds up nicely. Ultimately, when you strip away the entirety of the film’s musical subplots, you are treated to a character study on how people deal with and move on from their own grief with charm and surprising finesse. The device of children teaching their parents how to be mature is an overused cliché, but it never feels totally out of place here, and fits with Frank’s artistic background and wants his daughter to live life instead of ignoring it.
Having to pay for his daughter’s education, his mother’s care, all while closing his business and working a dead-end job, seems like a tall tale. Still, those are minor complaints to an overall effective story about the choices we make, how to live with the results, and how to move on with your life, for better or worse.