“Hearts Beat Loud” is a quiet film in tone and delivery. Don’t let that fool you. The production from writer/director Brett Haley shouts its messages about love, family and the addictiveness of passions. Haley has shown how commanding a film delivered in lean-in-to-hear quiet tones can be. In a world where theaters shake with the latest big action movie, it’s a gift to find a film that shakes the viewer’s emotions with an equal amount of intensity.
Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) is a retail dinosaur desperately trying to hold on to the record store business he has run since ending his days as a professional musician. It’s a fool’s errand, as the world has grown past his passion for vinyl — and for him. At the same time, Frank is facing the parental realities that his daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), is leaving home to go to college. Frank wants the best for his daughter, but the separation anxiety is full blown, because the pair made their way together since the death of Frank’s wife.
What appears to be a life preserver comes to Frank in the form of a song he and Sam have recorded. After Frank posts the tune online, the reaction is strong enough that all he can see is a future where the father-daughter team becomes a permanent band. That would keep his passion for music alive and be a detour for his daughter’s plans to leave home.
Haley does a beautiful job in showing the impending joy and eventual reality check Frank faces. This happens when he must deal with the decision between focusing on his own passions or letting them go for a greater good.
Offerman turns in a quietly powerful performance as both the caring father and the passionate musician. Each note of his performance resonates with emotional tones that are anchored in reality and accented with heart. It’s a balanced performance that at times makes the viewer sympathetic to his need to hang on to the two greatest loves of his life — music and his daughter — while at the same inspiring pity for him when he takes such a stubborn stance.
It helps that he gets such a strong performance from Clemons to match the emotional moments. Sam is facing her own emotional crossroads, especially with the new love in her life, Rose (Sasha Lane). Couple that with her deep feelings for her father, and Clemons gives Sam a grounded feel.
Both performances work so well because Haley has avoided the standard family drama clichés, and the way father and daughter act is so richly wrapped in reality. “Hearts Beat Loud” is an honest portrayal of relationships — whether they be with people or music — from start to finish.
Their performances are even more impressive when adding the musical element. Clemons has a rich singing voice, and Offerman’s musical skills are just strong enough to make the title tune the most memorable and important film song since “That Thing You Do.” “Hearts Beat Loud” is a small movie, but that should not stop Oscar voters for considering it for a nomination in the Best Song category.
The work by Offerman and Clemons would have been enough to recommend the film, but Haley doesn’t stop there. His use of Toni Collette, Ted Danson and Blythe Danner in supporting roles provides bonus moments that are equally as powerful and fun.
Collette’s portrayal of the woman who could potentially be a new love in Frank’s life is full of the kind of warmth she brings to every role. The fun in watching Collette is she has a way of playing even the smallest of roles in such a way that the character come across as deeply complex.
Danson lifts spirits when the film begins to slip toward the melancholy. His role is not that far removed from Danson’s days on “Cheers,” but when you do something well, there’s no sin in repeating the work.
All this goes to make “Hearts Beat Loud” — despite its grammatical miscue — a lyrical tale of dealing with passions. It warmly deals with how there are times to fight for what you love and times to let go. The examination of both is delivered with great panache through the finely tuned script by Haley and the performances that are in perfect harmony.