In reviewing director Brett Haley’s previous feature The Hero last year, I specifically called out the supporting performance of actor Nick Offerman and the genuine warmth expressed between him and leading star Sam Elliott.
I’m guessing Haley sensed something, too, as Offerman takes center stage in Hearts Beat Loud, the latest slice of life tale by Haley about older men and women hurdling through the supposed golden years of their lives and finding just as much insecurity and uncertainty as when they were looking up at the life ahead of them. It’s a simple, heartfelt film that settles nicely into Haley’s growing, unassuming oeuvre.
The middle-aged man in question here is Offerman as Frank. As the owner of a failing record shop in Red Hook, New York, the only solace he now finds in life is making music with his daughter, Sam (a wonderfully ebullient Kiersey Clemmons). The pair have a natural, fairly generous relationship. Outside of the eye-rolling moments of awkwardness any 20-year-old daughter holds for her father, they know each other well enough that after Sam meets and falls in love with Rose (Sasha Lane), Frank asks without any hint of bitterness or judgement if her recent mood swings are because of finding a girlfriend. For once in a film, the relationship between father and daughter feels evolved and not hung up on the ravages of expectations.
In fact, the only real friction between the two lies in his incessant desire to make music with her. Her talents of songwriting are evident after their first jam session, and it’s only after Frank slyly puts their single on Spotify that the encouragement to make more music begins.
The other friction in Frank’s life — besides his dwindling record store business — is his timid relationship with landlord Leslie (Toni Collette). They go out a few times. He sees her with another, younger man. Their relationship sours. But just like the naturalistic relationship he holds with his daughter, the sublimeness of Hearts Beat Loud lies in the way writer-director Haley never forces anything. The film will continually put a smile on one’s face because it works incrementally and unhurried, layering in honesty with subtle touches and never reaching for a grand statement about human nature. Like Sam Elliott in The Hero or Blythe Danner in I’ll See You In My Dreams (2015), Hearts Beat Loud is a true slice of life that entails everything but the earth shattering. It’s only people living and surviving the tiny tumults that arise every day.
Featuring songs by composer Keegan DeWitt, one of the most diverse and extraordinary composers in film today, Hearts Beat Loud could also be called a musical. It’s no La La Land (2016), where people break into song and dance on a whim, but its musical backbone is firmly in place, lingering over Sam and Frank as they create music together and, eventually, decide to share their creations with a small crowd during the record shop’s final night of business. Dangerously close to something maudlin, the performance works here because the sentiments are right and the relationship between father and daughter is so well-drawn that the film could take us any place with them and we’d follow.
Like the conversation between Collette and Offerman, discussing the band Animal Collective, in which he explains that their music is quite actually very simple and she disagrees, Hearts Beat Loud is a deceptively simple film whose footprint feels larger than it really is.
The film opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, June 15.