Contained within director Brett Haley’s little indie darling, Hearts Beat Loud, resides an indomitable, overflowing joy. It’s unexpected, wondrous, and bound to fill your soul up until it, too, overflows. Sweet without being saccharine, loving without being profane, pure without being naive, Hearts Beat Loud successfully navigates the land mines of love, family, and moving on in a way unseen since 2016’s Sing Street, itself a film that also utilizes music to communicate the inner-most thoughts of its central characters. As it continues its slow nationwide roll-out, Hearts Beat Loud creates more opportunities to spread more joy, more love, and more than anything, more hope.
Music runs strong through the Fisher family. Grandmother Marianne (Blythe Danner) is a former NYC lounge singer, father Frank (Nick Offerman) is a retired musician-turned-record-store-owner, and daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) writes, arranges, and plays just about any instrument. But where Frank and Marianne are pulled toward the music, Sam sees music as the thing to do when she’s done everything else. Taking pre-pre-med classes before moving to the West Coast to study at UCLA, partaking in a jam session with her Dad is the last thing on her mind. After reluctantly joining the session, they end up creating “Hearts Beat Loud,” a song born of Sam’s budding romance with artist Rose (Sasha Lane). Frank is so blown away by the piece that he uploads it to Spotify, setting them on a journey of bittersweet introspection.
Expectations dictate that a family drama must hit certain beats in order to achieve maximum emotional investment by the audience. Beautifully, Hearts Beat Loud ignores all the things you expect by giving audiences what they need: a story of a family in transition which only focuses on the transition. To accomplish this, the script by Haley and Marc Basch (The Hero) trims the fat, delivering a lean, laser-focused screenplay executed with heart-shattering precision by its cast. The audience is quickly clued into the fact that Frank is closing his shop and that Sam is leaving Red Hook for Los Angeles, putting an immediate clock on the story. Audiences expect that Hearts Beat Loud will conjure up some way to keep this family together and make them a success – and whether they do or are proves to be irrelevant – because Haley and Basch’s script slowly reveals that Hearts isn’t about preserving the present, but is about moving forward into the future. Neither Frank nor Sam are reluctant to face his or her future, however, there are aspects of their shared past that trouble them individually. Rather than wasting time with long stretches of dialogue, Haley and Basch rely on performance to carry the narrative. Subtle gestures, reactions, reflections, or physical reactions to environment all accentuate how unique Hearts is and add up to an emotionally satisfying tale. Physicality isn’t enough to tell this kind of story, however, which is where the music comes in. Through their musical journey, Frank and Sam process their emotions together, providing opportunities for resolution in a manner reflective of real life transitions, while avoiding the clichés of cinematic finality.
Weaving in and out of the narrative are composer Keegan DeWitt’s (The Hero) undeniably infectious and consistently emotional score and soundtrack. Although guaranteed to get stuck in your head, the music is more than a hook for Hearts as it provides the means for Frank and Sam to simultaneously process their internal conflicts and demonstrate the strong bond between the father-daughter duo. From the bouncy titular track and tender pop song “Blink (One Million Miles)” to the closing track “Everything Must Go” to the atmospheric tracks that round out the soundtrack, the songs exist to do more than offer musical interludes. Each one holds a meaning for the characters and enables them to communicate something – love, loss, unbreakable hope – in a way that words alone can’t. In their genesis, the music represents the melding of Frank’s past with Sam’s present. Unlike other soundtracks or scores which merely color a scene, these songs are also key components of character development. In one particularly moving scene, we observe Frank developing the guitar section of “Everything Must Go” intercut with Sam and Rose enjoying a summer’s afternoon. As he quietly plucks the chords, mediating on his daughter’s future, the song places a melancholy over an otherwise joyful scene between two young lovers. When Frank and Sam come together to play the same, now fully realized, song, it’s sanguine and infused with their individually realized sense of purpose, turning “Everything Must Go” into a poppy tune that’ll have you bouncing in your seat. Much like moments in our own lives which are colored by the emotions at the time, the songs take on new energy, new meaning in a new circumstance.
Though the songs are the thing audiences are likely to be most enamored with, the cast is what draws the audience in and each member absolutely delivers. Audiences will see things from leads Offerman and Clemons that they haven’t before. Offerman is a man whose talents lie in the multitudes and he offers a performance unlike anything I’ve seen from him before. He gives same blunt, dry delivery we’ve heard from him before, yet this time within it is a nurturing softness that bleeds out around the edges. The more we witness Frank playing music with Sam, the more that softness emerges and it will simultaneously fill your heart while it breaks from the circumstances. Sam’s determined to become a doctor, something she loves to study, but when Frank sees her play an instrument, listens to her sing, it’s as though all the walls he’s put up disintegrate. No scene conveys this better than when he hears “Hearts Beat Loud” – the combination of his daughter’s voice and their music – playing over the loud speakers at a local bakery. It’s a scene used in every trailer, but watching Offerman as Frank slowly processes what’s happening will fill you with joy. Clemons effortlessly plays off Offerman, herself no slouch as a musician or performer. In the aforementioned scene with Rose, Sam learns a skill that most young adults would know, yet her upbringing with Frank meant it was ignored. The reasons why are explained through subtext, but if not for Clemons’s portrayal of a young girl seemingly freed, untethered to a limitation she didn’t realize she had, a significant emotional moment would feel hollow. It’s moments like these – two simple, quiet character-focused moments – that will push Hearts underneath your skin.
There’s very little one can say about Hearts Beat Loud that won’t instantly bring a smile to your face. The rumors of inherent joyfulness are not hyperbole. Haley and Basch’s script is earnest without lacking in silliness, performances are top notch (even supporting players Danner, Lane, Ted Danson, and Toni Collette get some fun bits as the story requires them to engage Frank and Sam), and the music – oh the music – will get your toes tapping and your butt bouncing. To their greatest credit, however, Haley and Basch also deliver one of the most natural representation of LGBTQ+ romance without it being the focus of the story. Sam is Sam and is not defined by the people she loves. In an era where stories like Love, Simon and Saturday Church are absolutely necessary, to see a film tell a story of inclusion and love without centering itself on that particular narrative is refreshing because it’s as it should be. We could all use a bit more bravery, a bit more room in our hearts, a bit more music in our lives, and a chance to let our hearts beat loud.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5