[This is a repost of my review from the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Hearts Beat Loud is now open in limited release]
You don’t have to look too hard at Sundance to find a “nice” indie. It’s a movie that features some mid-level stars and/or rising stars, has a budget that’s too low for Hollywood to pursue, and is generally inoffensive in every conceivable way. Brett Haley’s Hearts Beat Loud is such a movie, and there’s nothing particularly wrong with that. It’s got strong performances, especially from leads Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons, and a nice story about a father-daughter bond that’s about to permanently change once the daughter goes off to college. Weave in a little bit about how art brings people together, and you have a movie that’s perfectly fine if not much else.
Frank (Offerman) runs a record store in Red Hook that’s on its last legs, and his life is about to become even more difficult when his daughter Sam (Clemons) goes off to UCLA at the end of the summer. After one of their regular jam sessions, Frank decides to upload their song, “Hearts Beat Loud”, onto Spotify where it becomes an unexpected hit. Frank sees the opportunity to get everything he wants—playing music professionally with his daughter—but she’s far more reluctant, juggling her desire to go to college as well as a new romantic relationship with local artist Rose (Sasha Lane). With Sam’s departure looming, the father and daughter must decide what they want as they both head into new phases in their lives.
Hearts Beat Loud isn’t really interested in challenging its audience as much as it’s just trying to tell a nice dramedy, which is a respectable goal. Not every movie has to rock the audience to their core or make us reconsider our place in the universe. This is a worthwhile story that’s made real by the strong performances and honest relationship about a father who doesn’t want to let go of his daughter and a daughter coming to a crossroads in her own life. Yes, we can see where the conflict is heading and it arrives right on time at the climax of the second act, but the predictability is almost soothing.
The movie derives most of its energy from Offerman and Clemons. While Offerman will always partly be Ron Swanson to me, movies like Hearts Beat Loud give him an opportunity to show his range, from his cheerful exuberance at discovering “Hearts Beat Loud” is a hit to the anger and frustration at his daughter pursuing different dreams than he would prefer. While larger productions may seem comfortable slotting Offerman into the role of a supporting character actor, Hearts Beat Loud shows he has so much more to offer than deadpan delivery.
As for Clemons, she shows she, along with co-star Lane, are rising stars for a reason. Her frustration with Frank never feels petulant or mean, and comes from a place of a daughter who doesn’t want to cut her father out, but also can’t follow him anymore. She also has great chemistry with Lane, and you want their relationship to succeed almost more than you want her to stay in a band with Frank. Good actors give you characters worth rooting for even if the script takes them to predictable places.
Some may feel that the predictability and comfort of Hearts Beat Loud is a damning negative, and I get that. Indie films, freed from the constraints of Hollywood, should feel free to take some chances. But there’s also something to be said for just telling smaller stories that may not shake the foundations of cinema, but still have a tale worth telling. Hearts Beat Loud may not make a lot of noise, but its heart is certainly in the right place.