Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a heart warming story about a father and daughter connecting through music because, whilst the pre-release marketing might posit as such, the reality of the narrative is a somewhat different beast. Everything that is good about this film is tempered somewhat by those elements that leave you frustrated at knowing how good it could have been. Director Brett Haley has padded out the story with characters and events that seem superfluous to the core narrative and not interesting enough in their own right to demand your attention. Nick Offerman’s record store owner Frank Fisher is a particularly unlikeable character whose only pleasure seems to come from jam sessions with daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemens). However, with her focus now firmly on her studies, Sam sees these sessions as a distraction and is a far from willing participant, even when they strike upon a song that secures some attention on Spotify. Refusing to even acknowledge his daughter’s protestations, Frank selfishly starts to map out their future as a band with a view to convincing Sam to abandon her plans to flee Brooklyn for college in California.
Sam is a wonderful character and Clemens, who was fantastic in her feature debut Dope in 2015, is excellent again here in the role of a teenager who possesses a far greater level of maturity than her delusional dad, an individual as uninteresting as he is unlikeable. Frank is so insufferable that you realise within minutes why Sam would want to move to the other side of the country to get away from him. He is rude to his customers, unreasonable in the demands he makes of Sam to partake in his musical folly and totally misguided in his perception of the relationship between him and his landlord Leslie (Toni Collette). In fact, Leslie’s presence seems to be purely as a means to ensure we understand just how pathetic Frank has become. The usually reliable Ted Danson is unconvincing as stoner bar owner Dave, the only person who seems willing to tolerate Frank’s misery.
The strength of the movie lies in the romance between Sam and her artist girlfriend Rose (Sasha Lane), which is handled very well by Haley. Little emphasis is placed on the fact that Sam is gay (or perhaps bisexual); it is just treated as something about which there does not need to be any fuss, which is exactly how it should be. Her sexuality doesn’t define her and, to his credit in what is perhaps his only redeeming quality, Frank certainly doesn’t find it problematic in any way, which is a refreshing change. Unlike typical romance narratives where obstacles stand in the way of true love, Haley (who co-wrote the screenplay with Marc Basch), has subverted that premise with Hearts Beat Loud in that it is the romance that looms as the obstacle; a potential stumbling block for Sam in her bid to distance herself from her life in Brooklyn. Thankfully, Haley resists any temptation to sexualise the girls or their relationship; avoiding the type of tawdry titillation that might typically tarnish such a story. Their make-out sessions are romantic without ever becoming anything more and it is very easy to believe that these two young women are in love, which is to the considerable credit of Clemens and Lane (who also made a big splash on debut alongside Shia Lebouf in 2016’s American Honey).
The musical pieces are enjoyable with the versatile Clemens actually singing the various songs she and Frank construct, one of which provides the film with its title, while Offerman apparently learnt to play the various instruments that accompany her impressive voice. The likes of Leslie, David and Frank’s increasingly erratic mother (Blythe Danner) are largely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things and time dedicated to them would have been better spent on the relationship between Sam and Rose or offering up some reason for us to care about Frank (beyond a maudlin moment where he sits on the kerb alongside a memorial for his wife, who had been killed in a cycling accident years earlier). Despite its shortcomings, Hearts Beat Loud is – even with its contemporary setting – a nostalgic look at growing up that showcases the considerable talents of a young actress who seems destined to make a considerable mark.