The most telling thing I can share about the specific world occupied by Brett Haley’s Hearts Beat Loud is that its big, OMG celebrity cameo is Jeff Tweedy. If you don’t know who Jeff Tweedy is, it’ll put you at a slight (but hardly insurmountable) disadvantage while watching the film. It just so happens that I do know who Jeff Tweedy is (he’s an alt-country hero, most notably as the lead singer of Wilco) and what’s more, I know tons of guys who are just like the film’s protagonist, Frank (Nick Offerman)—aging Gen Xers who worship vinyl and used to play in a band and wear lots of flannel and have a goodly amount of gray in their alt-scruffy beards.
Frank is the owner of Red Hook Records and one of the film’s many pleasures is how real the store seems. (I’m assuming the filmmakers hijacked and modified an actual record store.) Everything, from the album covers on the walls, to the stacks of boxes and stereo equipment piling up in the corners, to the shop’s vintage-style logo—it would look great on a T-shirt—feels authentic. The film has a great establishing scene: Frank is behind the counter at the store, enjoying a cigarette, when a customer tells him he can’t smoke. “If you buy something, I’ll put it out,” Franks says. The customer leaves in a huff and there’s even a further punchline I won’t share here. Suffice it to say, Frank is a man out of time—which is probably why he can’t pay the rent, despite the patience of his landlord and friend, Leslie (Toni Collette), and will need to close the store soon.
Frank is a widower, with a studious teenage daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons) who’s getting ready to be pre-med at UCLA. That night, Frank comes home to the small but homey apartment he and Sam share and teases his daughter for doing homework in the summer—she explains that she actually likes studying— and then tries to coax her away from her work, jokingly prancing about and singing about the awesome “jam sesh” they’re about to have. Sam resists, rolls her eyes, and finally laughs and succumbs—one senses this scene has played out many times before.
It turns out that Sam is a gifted singer and musician—so’s her pop—and they are able to collaborate on and record a kind of anti-love song, “Hearts Beat Loud.” Immediately, Frank starts talking about them recording an album together.
“What should our band name be?” he asks.
“We’re not a band,” she groans.
“We’re Not a Band,” he replies. “I like it.”
On a whim, Frank uploads the song to Spotify and it modestly takes off, just enough for him to have fantasies about We’re Not a Band playing the Mercury Lounge and the two of them wearing matching outfits (“but not too matchy-matchy”) on tour.
Meanwhile, after having just written a song about how her heart never feels truly full, Sam meets a dreadlocked girl named Rose (Sasha Lane from American Honey) at an art gallery and they have an instant simpatico. Soon she’s writing a new love song, this time about Rose.
“Do you have a girlfriend?” Frank asks her, overhearing the song. It’s a sweet, understated moment. There’s no dramatic coming out scene. Frank already knows his daughter is queer.
Not much happens in Hearts Beat Loud, which is part of its charm. It’s a lowkey, tenderhearted film that explores a mostly functional and loving relationship between a somewhat immature dad and his somewhat too mature daughter. Both Offerman, whose gruffness is set off by occasional goofiness, and the lovely Clemons, who has an age-belying gravitas about her, are great. The film’s other relationships achieve various degrees of success: Sam and Rose have a sweet intimacy together; and Leslie and Frank struggle believably with the ambiguity of their relationship—are they just friends, or more? Ted Danson is on hand, too, as Frank’s friend, a stoner philosopher bar owner, and it feels a bit like stunt casting, although Danson is always a welcome presence. Blythe Danner, however, is underused as Frank’s aging mom, who has taken to shoplifting, for reasons never quite explained.
I like how the film doesn’t feel a need to underline things, it just lets them be. For example, Sam may resist her dad’s desire to be her BFF and bandmate, but his influence over her is clear.
“Dad, you can’t sell this for $4!” she objects, standing over a clearance rack at the store, and waving the 1985 Tom Waits album, Rain Dogs.
Yup, that’s Frank’s kid, through and through.
Hearts Beat Loud opens Friday, June 15 at The Charles.