“When life hands you conundrums, you turn them into art.”
What I’ve always admired about movies – and what I’ve long loved about all of the many forms of art – is their way of devising and inciting shared conversations in situations where we’d otherwise remain silent, harboring secrets and internalizing our thoughts. We may not always be able to vocalize how we feel with others, and for that we can turn on a song or point to a painting. We can suggest a book or share a film. True art occurs when our hearts speak through our souls, and when the restrictions of anxiety and fear are numbed by the long-lasting power of trust and love. Only then are we able to really interpret the lyricism of life. In Hearts Beat Loud – a feel good movie with a message and a lovely voice worth listening to – the words aren’t just part of a catchy tune with a decent melody. They’re engaging and full-bodied truths spoken by people we want to believe are real and who we want to know. Not many movies can do that.
Standing behind the counter of Brooklyn’s neighborly Red Hook Records is Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman). The film’s opening lacks texture and nuance, but it is undeniably vital nevertheless. Frank is surrounded by hard-pressed vinyls, his store empty, jamming out with headphones on and a lit cigarette in hand. A young customer enters, exits feeling insulted, only coming in again to tell Frank he just bought a record online for less than the store had it priced. In this awkward exchange, Hearts Beat Loud defines itself as a story about generational gaps and the great lengths we’re willing to walk in order to bridge them so long as we really care about who’s on the other side. Then enters the landlady Leslie (Toni Collette), apologetic that she had to finally raise the rent, and Frank relinquishes his grip on the palatial piece of musical worship he’s long overseen. Red Hook Records will soon be no more. Comedy and drama drench this film from the very start.
His daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is at home studying, preparing for UCLA Medical School come Fall. Their dialogue implies Frank’s single parent concern, dispirited that his daughter has spent her final NY dog days slaving in front of the computer instead of being with friends. And so Frank – a washed up musician who used to perform with his late wife – talks Sam into a late night jam session. She’s on the keys and belting out lyrics. He’s strumming strings, managing the percussion of drums. What they create is nothing short of poetic alchemy, communicating their truths and their emptiness and their desires through the connective tissue of song. Maybe they can be a band? Or maybe not. Along the way Frank looks for affection from Leslie, and how can we blame him? Everything’s changing and she presents a possible constant. Sam meets Rose (Sasha Lane) and their eyes connect in ways only possible by real potential lovers. One of the great truths in this light-hearted, constantly joyous film is that we get to invite who we want into our little worlds, and because of that, we’re able to create the music we desperately need to hear if we’re willing to perform who/what we actually are. That’s such an empowering realization to make, and like the film itself, such a spiritual reckoning inspires great growth.
It’s been clear for a few years now that Brett Haley really knows how to direct performers, but Hearts Beat Loud has a script that finally shows a mastery his previous work never really lived up to for their entire 90+ minutes. 2017’s The Hero is anchored by a captivating performance from the legendary Sam Elliott, and yet the story lacks consequence and settles for wish-fulfillment. In 2015, he directed Blythe Danner to what should’ve been an Oscar nomination in I’ll See You in My Dreams, but even then the subplots of the picture weren’t worthy of Danner’s great role as a widow. Hearts Beat Loud walks a familiar line of surplus; I’d argue that Frank’s Mother (played by Danner) and Leslie’s indeterminate relationship with a side-piece named Ryan (Quincy Dunn-Baker) only take away from further fleshing out the irresistible leads we can’t help but fall in love with. Haley’s other films might have had older characters, but minor qualms aside, the people in Hearts Beat Loud are nonetheless far more mature and realistic.
Because it’s so palatable and so endearing, what makes Hearts Beat Loud such a special little indie film can easily go overlooked. The story deals with class struggles, interracial marriage, technological shifts, economic crisis, LGBTQ acceptance (and here it’s through the gaze of two colored women…a point that’s important but never framed as different), and builds towards the striking similarity between the feelings of love and loss. Brett Haley hits a high-note with Hearts Beat Loud, and through the collaborative efforts of the stellar Clemons and Offerman, the film is able to speak what is on its mind without having to scream or twist or shout. Instead we’re gifted something far more intimate, upbeat, and above all else, refreshingly honest. Some films take themselves so seriously that they demand a silent audience. Hearts Beat Loud wants to move us, for us to sing along, and to participate in its overwhelming goodness. It sticks a stethoscope to our chests to see if we’re alive, and for once that familiar shocking cold is warm to the touch.
“There’s a lot of love in there.”
Rating: 4 out of 5