Frank Fisher (a never-better Nick Offerman) is in love with music; everything about it excites him and ignites a story involving his past. However, he’s fallen out of love with selling music, as in records at his classic vinyl shop that is seeing rent rise and customers decrease. Frank is so old school that he smokes a cigarette inside the store when it is clearly against the rules. He doesn’t care about the rules, because in his eyes, music has no rules. He also drinks cheap beer and straight bourbon.
What Frank would like to do is make music with his daughter, the brilliant Sam (Kiersey Clemons), who is about to leave for medical school, but has an incredible voice that shouldn’t be wasted. This father-daughter connection is the heart and soul of Brett Haley’s Hearts Beat Loud, a heartwarming flick that combines flavors of John Carney’s Begin Again with Jon Favreau’s Chef. This is the kind of movie that will honestly make you feel good while making you blow the dust off your record player for an impromptu night of tunes.
Haley’s secret ingredient in storytelling is simplicity and restraint. We don’t have to know Frank’s entire backstory and what makes him tick, because the filmmakers are going to tell us over the course of 97 minutes. As he did with Sam Elliott in The Hero and Blythe Danner (who has a sweet supporting role here) in I’ll See You in My Dreams, Haley gives a versatile actor the role of a lifetime with Offerman and Frank.
Offerman gives such a convincing performance that it makes you want to go looking for Frank in New York. You think he’s out there, popping cynical anecdotes off like he flicks cigarette ashes on the street. While he won’t win an Oscar or make you reevaluate what determines cornerstone acting, the actor slips on the soul of this retired musician like a broken-in pair of sneakers.
Unlike an actor trying to find his way into a role like a drunk would wander around the perimeter of his apartment building, Offerman’s take on Frank feels lived in and not forced. Haley gave him a fine side piece on The Hero, but serves him an entire pie here. I hope they continue to work together.
Clemons more than holds her own with Offerman, playing a diligent young woman who can’t decide between momentary bliss with her father or a future that looks like a perfectly made, if boring, bed. Sam also happens to be in love with Rose (Sasha Lane), which further complicates her desire to relocate across the country. What if art was knocking on your door even though a proven, if lonely, career was honking the horn outside in a car ready to uproot your entire life? Clemons makes you feel that pain.
Ted Danson puts in solid work here as Frank’s friend, a bartender who is at ease with life and tries to push Frank in that direction. Danson is one of those guys who can pop up in any movie and lend it some comedic wit and grace. Toni Collette is also good as Frank’s landlord and “friend” who sees something in him that still appears blurry and unrealistic to him. As Frank’s eccentric and troublesome mother, Danner plays completely against her part in Haley’s earlier film-and it’s hilarious.
Great acting is when a person doesn’t need prosthetic to make you believe they are someone else. All the actors do that here with ease in roles that were made for their talents. That’s a rare thing.
The music, arranged and written by Keegan DeWitt (who wrote a beautiful song for The Hero), is catchy and unique. An alternative rock with some punk riffs thrown in. Clemons and Offerman sing and perform the tunes, which helps a lot in the convincing department. Frank singing a quiet, sad song for Sam will make you tear up a little because you know it entails their past. Again, the actors convince. If you are going to make a film about music, it better convince.
I liked how the ending didn’t tie a neat bow on things, instead leaving them open to interpretation and conversation. The running time flies by, feeling more like a tease than a “check your watch” convention. As the credits approach, you feel them and wish there was more time with Frank, Sam, Dave and Leslie. The special films make you feel that, like there’s a second chapter that won’t be forced upon your plate.
Hearts Beat Loud is one of the warmest films I’ve seen in a long time. It preaches hope without beating you over the head with a message and calms your soul with the music it presents. Instead of being a mere crutch, the songs exist as supporting actors carrying their own weight.
Like Jeff Nichols, Brett Haley makes simplistic, yet potent, indie films. There are no costumes or special effects. Just people playing music as if it aided their hearts.
Wherever Haley goes next, I’m following. You should to.