Hearts Beat Loud
A father and daughter bond over their love of playing/creating music during her final summer before leaving for college in Brett Haley’s Hearts Beat Loud.
I saw this film as part of the 2018 Edinburgh International Film Festival and had no idea what to expect going in as is often the case for festival films. All I had was a brief barely remembered synopsis, the knowledge that Nick Offerman is in it and the fact that it happened to be on at a convenient time. I feel it’s important to point this out because it may help readers understand why I was so blown away by what was put in front of me. This is one of those films sneaks up and delivers an experience you didn’t know you wanted or needed.
Nick Offerman plays Frank; the owner of a small town record store that can no longer sustain itself so has to close. As this is happening his daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is preparing to head off to college and become a doctor. Everything in Frank’s life is changing and he seems powerless to stop it. Accepting change defines his character throughout and for the most part he seems to take it in his stride. Nick Offerman plays Frank in a constant state of realistic sadness but not in the sense that he is depressed by everything that he seems to be losing. The sadness more manifests in a really calm way as Frank goes about his life having accepted what has happened while longing for the good old days where he gained more than he lost. It’s a great performance making use of Nick Offerman’s ability to add so much depth to his roles.
His relationship with Sam is a good summary of how he feels. On one hand he is very proud of everything that she has accomplished and will no doubt go onto accomplish but he is also upset by the fact that he will soon watch his little girl go off to college which will result in them seeing far less of each other. His desire to hold onto the past comes through clearly in the way he tries to make the most of what little time he has left with her. This leads him to encourage Sam to indulge in a jamming session; something they used to do together when she was younger. Out of this comes a modest Spotify hit that makes Frank think they can be a successful musical duo.
It’s a great relationship that has so much heart to it. In the early part of the film it’s clear that they are close but have drifted apart to some degree with the implication that the death of Sam’s mother/Frank’s wife was the catalyst for that happening. Both of them are dealing with the loss in their own way with Frank wallowing in a past that he can’t reclaim and Sam laser focused on making something of herself. Their shared love of music is what connects them and the scene where they jam before recording the titular song “Hearts Beat Loud” is one of the strongest moments in the film. It shows a connection that feels complex and offers an excellent bonding experience as they both throw all of their attention into getting the song just right. In that moment there is no past or future; all there is is what they’re working on and the bond that exists between them. It’s quietly powerful stuff that resonates wonderfully.
The best thing this film has is its characters. Everything feels very real because reactions to certain things are believable. Frank starts to dream big because he hears his daughter on a Spotify playlist being heard by every customer in a bakery. His excitement is infectious because Nick Offerman plays it so genuinely and it’s easy to see how he would latch onto this newfound connection he has with Sam to try to make more of it. This results in him spending money he doesn’t have on equipment he thinks they will need to be a serious band and suggesting that she delay her schooling in order to explore this project. It’s absolutely misguided and selfish but it comes from the right place and it’s impossible to condemn Frank for this because his background is so well established.
Sam doesn’t feel the same as she doesn’t have the same level of confidence in her musical ability. She sees music as a hobby that gives her an escape from her work but not much else. There are points in the film where she considers not following her plan to become a doctor but on the whole her focus is on achieving that goal. This isn’t a film about a young woman discovering her true passion, it’s more about a well rounded human being understanding what it is she wants out of life. Music is important to her and becoming closer to her father through working with him strengthens that but she still wants to be a doctor. I really appreciated this as it allows Sam to be a well developed character with different interests and priorities that don’t clash with one another.
Kiersey Clemons is incredible as Sam. Her performance helps create a fascinating and complex character who feels like a fully realised person rather than a function of the plot. I’ve already mentioned her desire to become a doctor taking most of her focus with her love of music being compartmentalised as a hobby. She carries feelings of loss over her dead mother and is struggling with the prospect of saying goodbye to her girlfriend Rose (Sasha Lane) as there is a mature awareness that their relationship won’t stand up to the distance or shift in priorities. What we see of this relationship is really well done and the film doesn’t make a big deal out of a same sex relationship.
Another really memorable thing in this film is the original music. There are a handful of songs written by Keegan DeWitt that are performed by Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons that are both catchy and heartfelt. They are deployed strategically throughout the film and always punctuate the feelings of the characters at that particular moment allowing both the song and moment to take on extra meaning. The titular “Hearts Beat Loud” enhances the father/daughter bonding, “Blink (One Million Miles)” punctuates how Sam feels about saying goodbye to Rose and so on. It’s impressive to see that the songs aren’t just included as gimmick to increase sales of the soundtrack and have genuine meaning behind them. It also really helps that Kiersey Clemons has a really powerful voice that carries her songs perfectly with Nick Offerman also impressing in an ageing rocker sort of way. There are also a number of licensed songs that fit the overall tone of the film perfectly so top marks for the soundtrack all round.
The important thing this film achieves is genuine heart. It achieves this through the well developed relationships existing in a world that feels both real and appropriately larger than life. There are certain conveniences that are necessary to move the plot forward but they are always tempered by a dose of reality that counters the easy “dreams come true” escape that the film could have made use of. As such the ending is more bittersweet and celebrates the character development rather than solving every problem. It’s touching, refreshing and really makes the film stand out.
I found the supporting cast to be somewhat lacking. Ted Danson plays a bartender who enjoys marijuana but only seems to exist to give Frank someone his own age to talk to. The scenes they share feel somewhat expositional though the performances create an implied history between them. Toni Collette fares a little better as Frank’s landlady Leslie though comes and goes from the plot without leaving any real lasting impact. Both of these characters largely distract from the far more interesting father/daughter relationship that forms the films core along with an extraneous subplot involving Frank’s mother that doesn’t really add anything.
A well crafted and heartfelt character driven story with wonderful original music and incredible performances. The core of the film is the father/daughter relationship between Nick Offerman’s Frank and Kiersey Clemons Sam who are preparing to be separated when she moves away from college though manage to bond on a profound level thanks to their shared musical talents. The music is deployed expertly to enhance the emotion of certain moments allowing both the song and moment to be imbued with so much extra meaning. The film consistently achieves genuine heart with certain plot conveniences being tempered by a dose of reality that counters the easy “dreams come true” escape that the film could have made use of. It means a bittersweet ending that celebrates the character development rather than solving problems. The only drawback are a supporting cast that don’t match up to the more interesting father/daughter relationship along with some extraneous elements that don’t add anything such as a subplot involving Frank’s mother.
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