There's nothing particularly taxing about director Brett Haley's latest film, the feel-good festival darling Hearts Beat Loud. It's the kind of film that you expect to see at an indie film festival, the kind of film that picks up its share of audience awards, in this case at Sarasota Film Fest and Wisconsin Film Fest, before almost inevitably struggling to find a wider audience once picked up by an indie distributor.
In this case that indie distributor is Gunpowder & Sky, which has picked up the film for a limited arthouse run that arrives at Indy's Landmark Keystone Art Cinema on June 15th after opening in a handful of theaters on June 8th.
Hearts Beat Loud stars Nick Offerman, whose leap to fame as Ron Swanson on television's Parks & Recreation has been followed by a number of acclaimed supporting cinematic efforts and a slowly increasing transition to leading man status. Here, Offerman is Frank, whose 17 year run as owner of the indie record store Red Hook Records is nearing its end right about the same time his daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons, Dope and television's Transparent), is headed off for a pre-med program at UCLA.
If you find yourself already guessing the storyline for Hearts Beat Loud, there's a pretty good chance you're absolutely right. As his life kinda sorta downward spirals, Frank's sole escape seems to be his mightly jam sessions with his daughter, sessions that seemingly once served as a healing vessel since his wife and her mother died several years earlier. Unfortunately for Frank, Sam's interest in those jam sessions has given way to her obsession with med school and, before long, her rather tender obsession with first love Rose (Sasha Lane, one of the film's highlights). As always seems to be true in these bittersweet, lightly comical journeys, Frank talks Sam into a jam sesh one night and before long the inspired duo has crafted a song called, you guessed it, Hearts Beat Loud, which, you also guessed it, gets uploaded to Spotify and manages to find an audience on the site's "Indie Mix."
So far, Brett Haley, who also co-wrote the film with Marc Basch, has made a career out of this type of low-demand, touchy feely and bittersweet flicks including such efforts as The Hero and I'll See You In My Dreams. Hearts Beat Loud follows the paint-by-numbers formula of those films, yet it does so in a way that is so feel good and so warm and fuzzy that if you give yourself into it you're likely not going to mind much at all.
Solid performances go a long way to making Hearts Beat Loud a palatable, if relatively minor, effort. Offerman's Frank is the kind of guy who wears his resignation like an emo Jack Black yet whose underlying passion can never be completely squelched and whose love for his daughter can never really be questioned. While a last chance romance with Leslie (Toni Collette), also his landlord, is under-developed, both performers are strong enough to still make it resonate.
The film's truly breakthrough performance may come from Clemons, whose cinematic efforts haven't exactly been stellar yet whose presence here is one of genuine tenderness and depth. Sam's romance with Rose is the film's most interesting thread, a thread made even more compelling thanks to the strong chemistry between Clemons and Sasha Lane.
Ted Danson is often hilarious as Frank's bar owner/pothead friend, while Haley regular Blythe Danner is memorable as Frank's increasingly challenged mother. While she's under-utilized, Collette's turn as Leslie never hits a false note.
Hearts Beat Loud features music by Keegan Dewitt, whose indie tunes are just catchy enough to convince and have just that hint of a spark to indicate they'd be the type of hidden gem you discover late one night on Spotify while looking for new tunes and sharing what you find with your friends.
Hearts Beat Loud isn't a great film and it's likely not the film it could have been or even should have been. However, Hearts Beat Loud is an audience charmer with hints of Once at its core and such a genuine heart that even if you find yourself not blown away by it it's doubtful that you'll regret having spent a little over 90 minutes getting to know these characters.
For more information on the film, visit the Heart Beats Loud website linked to in the credits and give the film a chance if it arrives in your town as the film's soundtrack alone will likely project much more impressively on the big screen.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic