In “Hearts Beat Loud,” a film absolutely tailor-made for South by Southwest, director Brett Haley (“The Hero”) delivers a heartwarming ode to the healing power of music.
Nick Offerman stars as Frank, a single father and occasionally cantankerous record store owner in Brooklyn. He’s having difficulty accepting the fact that his only daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), is about to go away to college in the fall. To add insult to injury, she’s taking off across the country to attend UCLA. The father/daughter duo have always casually made music together for fun with impromptu jam sessions at home, but one particularly creative night results in a perfect little song that just so happens to provide our movie with its title. When Sam informs her father that she is not looking to do anything more than make some music in their living room, he’s disappointed but determined to change her mind.
Frank takes a recording of “Hearts Beat Loud” and does an internet search to find out how to release a song on streaming sites. A few clicks of the mouse later, their little home recording is uploading from TuneCore to Spotify under the name We Are Not A Band. A few days later, out at a local bakery, he hears their song playing in the store. Incredulously asking the cashier what is playing, he discovers that the song has already been placed on the curated “New Indie Mix” playlist on Spotify. “We’re on a playlist with Iron & Wine and Spoon!” he says. It’s a plot twist that, especially for struggling indie musicians, might seem a little far-fetched, but isn’t that the promise and magic of the movies?
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In the meantime, Frank’s landlord Leslie (Toni Collette) has been forced to raise the rent on the record store location, and Frank makes the decision to close down after 17 years in business. Not only does he have the expense of Sam’s impending college days to worry about, but his mother, Marianne (Blythe Danner), is slowly beginning to show signs of memory loss and has already been arrested for shoplifting in a local bodega. It’s clear that more time and resources will soon need to be devoted to her care. These are harsh realities to face, but Frank’s excitement over the possibility of success for We Are Not A Band takes precedent in the short term.
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Now, I will love Ron Swanson to my dying day, but I think this may be the best performance of Offerman’s career. He brings this character to life with a raw vulnerability and hopefulness that makes you want to root for him no matter the odds. And Clemons, who starred in the movie “Dope” and has spent some time on Amazon’s “Transparent,” is a revelation here. As Sam, she perfectly expresses the hopeful uncertainty of that transitional time in your life between high school and college. In supporting roles, Texas native Sasha Lane (“American Honey”) is terrific in her few scenes as Sam’s love interest, Collette gets in a raging karaoke cover of Chairlift’s “Bruises,” and it’s a real delight to see Ted Danson behind a bar again as Frank’s best friend Dave.
Just like with “Sing Street” a few years back, this is a movie where I wanted to own a soundtrack the nanosecond it ended. The brilliant original songs as performed by We Are Not A Band were written by Keegan DeWitt, who composed the score for Haley’s last two films. Hopefully, we’ll get them all on vinyl when distributor Gunpowder & Sky begins to release the film in select cities later this summer.
“Hearts Beat Loud” screened March 14 at SXSW; there are not other showings scheduled during the festival. Grade: A-