Less than a week ago, David Ehrlich wrote about “Nicecore” in the age of Trump. He postulated that “the darkness of the modern world has inspired a growing number of films to focus on a radical kindness.” Brett Haley‘s Hearts Beat Loud can be added to that growing chorus. A film about a widowed record store owner, Frank (Nick Offerman), and his musically talented daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), is just the right dose of a much needed kindness.
In between these IV drip-drops of empathy is a film about transitions. Sam is a few weeks short of leaving for college. Frank is close to closing his Red Hook record shop. Only three characters stick to the status quo: Frank’s land lady, Leslie (Toni Collette), Sam’s new girlfriend, Rose (Sasha Lane), and Frank’s local stoner bartender, Dave (Ted Danson).
Throughout the film, Frank and Sam’s relationship is more buddy-buddy than father-daughter. Much of that is maintained by Frank’s childlike personality around Sam. The rest of it is bolstered by their jam sessions. Since the death of Sam’s mother, her father has instituted weekly jam sessions where they say more about love and loss through music than they ever say to one another.
And while a film about musical creation only goes so far as the music, the songs in Hearts Beat Loud are extraordinary. The music, filled with U2-seque riffs, sounds like it would thrive on a Spotify playlist. Credit for that goes to the expert mind of Keegan DeWitt.
And thankfully, throughout the film, as Frank and Sam “compose” these tracks, we’re not reduced to the same musical cliches found in other films. That is, we don’t see two people who magically create a timeless track instantly. Part of the film’s charm is how these characters connect with the music and lyrics they’re making, and the craft that comes with such dedication. Anyone who’s written a song knows how much heart is poured across the sheet; Hearts Beat Loud actualizes that “overflowing of spontaneous emotion.”
It’s also an exploration of bi-racial familial relationships, single parentage, and queer love. All of these dynamics are examined through a deft and light hand, but most of all, through a kind and sincere eye from director Brett Haley who rarely utilizes pan shots in this film. Instead, he relies on the emotion of the scene and the content of the characters to propel the narrative rather than stylistic camera movements.
And it’s refreshing to see a bi-racial family not appear “unique.” The writing more than sells this father-daughter relationship, along with Offerman and Clemons’s easy chemistry. Offerman is like a mischievous puppy, glowingly looking for approval while living in the moment. For all of his character’s shortcomings, at times putting his own loneliness over the dreams of his daughter, he brings out the kindness and love written in the space between the words.
Nevertheless, it’s also the touching relationship between Sam and Rose, creating a post-modernist love story, that adds another dose of empathy. Credit is deserved for casting two openly queer actresses to play the roles, rather than two heterosexuals playing queer. The two bring a level of affection and understanding in a star-crossed lovers relationship that’s rarely seen without appearing contrived. Clemons, while Offerman is the lead, brings the needed emotional dynamic in what’s mostly a film about two peaceful relationships. And, after Lane’s role in American Honey and Clemons’s portrayal here, we’ll all be eagerly anticipating where their careers takes them next.
So, in a world where we’d rather close our ears from the sounds of immigrant children being torn apart from their parents, instead of confronting those horrors, Hearts Beat Loud is a “timely respite.” It’s reminder of what happens when we demonstrate empathy and kindness, even in its smallest drops.