DIRECTOR: Brett Haley
MPAA RATING: PG-13
RUNTIME: 97 minutes
What Brett Haley lacks in plotting prowess, he often makes up for in characterization and mood. Hearts Beat Loud continues the storytelling and directorial trends established in films like I’ll See You in My Dreams and The Hero. The situations are abstract, with beginnings giving way to endings more conceptual than palpably resolved.
His visual palette chases nostalgia: Objects and light sources – worn wooden floors faded by time, warmed by golden sunlight – plunge us into a scene’s feelings before anyone has said a word. And when people actually start talking, we understand their relationship, as it’s crafted with a keen sense of an inferred past.
Here, the central relationship is between Frank (Nick Offerman), a widowed record store owner in Brooklyn, and his teenage daughter Sam (Kiersey Clements), a UCLA-bound med student. He’s laid back and improvisational; she’s fastidious and logical. Their lives are in a state of flux. As Sam prepares to move across the country, Frank is forced to close his shop after the rent prices rise once again.
Their disparate personalities have caused them to move apart – not a lot, but enough to make a difference. Frank is caught up in the past and engaging the future with those memories, and one day he convinces his daughter to join him in a brief jam session. They’re both talented musicians, and they record a single that takes off on Spotify.
What happens now? When a local record label offers to rep them, Frank revives a longstanding dream of going on tour. Sam won’t even entertain it, worried that such a commitment would interfere with her schooling. Hearts Beat Loud theoretically finds its conflict here, but it’s less a central device and more of a backburning character driver. It’s more about the presence of a forthcoming separation that the new season will bring, something still viewable in their other relationships.
As Frank strikes up a tentative romance with his store’s landlady (Toni Collette), Sam tries to figure out what her impending move will mean for her and her girlfriend, rising artist Rose (Sasha Lane). Still, the interest in these subplots carry their ebbs and flows but never rise into their own offshoots of the loosely constructed plot.
It comes down to Haley’s charming style in directing his capable cast. Offerman and Clements carry a comfortable working chemistry, and the scenes where they actually perform as their band – called, in true indie fashion, We’re Not A Band – are accomplished with a clear command of the music. We know early on that Hearts Beat Loud will never take any overly challenging or unexpected turns, and that hurts the film’s ability to produce a cohesive, feature-length thesis. However, the well-guided direction and sweetly drawn characters keep our attention.
The movie is set in a decidedly innocent, hopeful world – one not very familiar with ours, and lighter than it thinks it is. Frank jumps for and shouts with joy the first time he hears his song streamed in a bakery. His old-hippie-turned-bar-owner best friend (Ted Danson) waxes on about his new pot dealer and his adventures in Woodstock. And his mother (Blythe Danner), whose creeping senility has caused her to start accidentally shoplifting, is still relegated to a comic background part, providing old stories and sharp wisecracks.
This gentle rhythm goes on until the summer ends; more changes must be made, and new chapters begin. Hearts Beat Loud presents itself as a witty and reassuring tonic. Its situations come and go, and its characters are all clearly delineated in their own quirky ways. In the hands of a lesser director, this would all wind up as some bland, inoffensive and boring non-event.
It’s arguable that such a fluffily-strung tale can never be as fully involving as it hopes because it must strive to be always less self-aware (or cynical, if you prefer) than the audience member who sees it. But Haley has, if nothing else, a real knowledge of the trodden paths, and he keeps recruiting enough gifted performers to give his familiar hooks and safe melodies a certain likability.