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There aren’t many father-daughter musical acts around. So your inner teenager might cringe at Hearts Beat Loud, Brett Haley’s feel-good drama about just such a pair that’s slight but warmly inoffensive.
Frank (Nick Offerman) is a failed musician and only barely more successful record store owner who’s despondent about business as well as his daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), who’s going off to college. She’s got a little time left in their Red Hook apartment, however, so one night he cajoles her into jamming like they used to before she outgrew it. After going through the motions, Sam tentatively plays a riff she’s been working on, one that Frank latches on to as something with promise.
Before you can say “Iron & Wine” they’ve written a song, a catchy indie pop tune that has Frank wanting to start a band. Instead, he uploads the song to Spotify. And a short while later, he hears it in a coffee shop. Freakout! They have to start a band now, right?
Haley (I’ll See You in My Dreams), who co-wrote the script with partner Marc Basch, is clearly a fan of indie music. In addition to references to bands such as Sleater-Kinney, Animal Collective, and Songs: Ohia, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy appears in a video (as Tweedy, the band he formed with his son) and also has a cameo (lending, one assumes, his tacit approval of the film). The songs were written by Keegan DeWitt and look like they’re actually performed by Offerman and Clemons, who is a trained musician. They’re good—if all a little same-sounding—and brighten the movie whenever Frank’s hang-doggedness threatens to go from appealing to tiresome.
Frank is a widower but gets a love interest in Toni Collette’s Leslie, his landlady. Although he likes her, he’s still wounded—as is Sam—by the loss of his wife, who was killed in a biking accident. Sam has a love interest, too: an artist named Rose (American Honey’s Sasha Lane). Though Sam’s sexuality welcomely hardly garners a blink, the fact that she’s also mixed-race makes it feel as if Haley and Basch were ticking off some diversity boxes when they wrote the story.
Hearts Beat Loud doesn’t come across as really being about anything. Perhaps the bond between father and daughter, sure. Maybe it’s a lesson on letting go. But mostly it’s a celebration of music as both pastime and therapy, with Sam using it not only as a break from her summer class but also as a way to work out her feelings about Rose and other matters. And Frank needs it as much as she does, as a bridge to connect with the child he feels slipping away and an escape from life’s drudgery. The film may never feel weighty, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sing.
Hearts Beat Loud opens Friday at Landmark E Street Cinema, Avalon Theatre, ArcLight Bethesda, and Angelika Mosaic.