'Hearts Beat Loud'
Saying anything even a little bit negative about ‘Hearts Beat Loud’ feels wrong, like you’re the party pooper trying to put a stop to the festivities just as everyone has gathered to have a good time. The movie has so much joy for those involved on display that it really feels like you’re the downer just unable to take the film for what it is.
That being said, ‘Hearts Beat Loud’ is a very conventional, down the middle, feel-good indie dramedy, the kind that litters Sundance each January. There are obviously different levels to just how hard the heartstrings can be pulled for such fare, and while this film doesn’t quite live up to the infectious spirit its characters are embodying, it still has its gleefully effective moments.
The story tells the tale of record store owner Frank (Nick Offerman), whose daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is growing apart from him as she prepares to head off for college. Business has been a struggle at the shop despite the encouragement of landlord Leslie (Toni Collette), Frank’s best friend Dave (Ted Danson), and his mother Marianne (Blythe Danner). One thing that keeps the father/daughter connection going is a regular jam session where they rock out together. When a song that Sam produces goes viral, Frank encourages his kid to fully embrace their musical journey together, moving from rehearsal space to live venue as they find new and positive ways of being part of each other’s lives.
The storyline is sweet enough to make your teeth hurt, but the charming warmth of the narrative is fueled by fine takes from Offerman and Clemons. Even as cliché after cliché grinds out, you can’t help but root for the film, almost forgiving that nagging feeling that we’re really not getting much more than some feel-good fluff to mask an overly simple daddy/daughter tale.
Towards the end, then, we’re paradoxically rooting for the pair on their musical ambitions and hoping for a bit more from the plot. Underneath the sweetness is a sinking feeling that the whole thing is pretty innocuous and superficial.
Writer/Director Brett Haley sprinkles his film with enough indie charm that it warrants a look, but never seems to trust the audience enough to make the dark parts feel a bit darker (which in turn would make the happier bits feel earned rather than tacked-on). The rousing moments mask the real financial and emotional challenges that were brought up earlier in the story, resulting in a pervasive feeling that those parts were merely window dressing so that we could end up with a smiling Offerman and Clemons gifting audiences with a musical treat.
‘Hearts Beat Loud’ wears its heart on its sleeve, and ends up feeling like a breezy jam session that’s played just for fun. The fact that some of the ingredients are truly special is perhaps the most frustrating part. With a bit more edginess and attention to the dramatic elements, the movie could have been a rousing success. Instead, we’ve got a tune that’s fun to listen to if pretty forgettable. Given that greatness seems tantalizingly close, that’s kind of a shame.