Hearts Beat Loud

Life writ small

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Brett Haley’s new movie, Hearts Beat Loud, isn’t quite in the same league as his best film, I’ll See You in My Dreams, but I see what he’s up to, and I’m liking it. At a time when popular American movies are heading in the direction of the huge and the simple, Haley is developing an aesthetic that’s all about the small and the complex. He makes movies about people, emotions, family, life, death—all things that will make his films completely comprehensible 200 years from now. That stuff doesn’t change.

This time out, he’s telling a father-daughter story that finds both father and daughter at a critical juncture. Nick Offerman is Frank, who owns a record store specializing in vintage vinyl, which means he’s going out of business very soon. He’s a guy pushing 50 and not exactly living his dream. A musician who was once in a band with his wife, he’s now a widower and even his fallback career is drying up. His future is a question mark, but he has, under the dour surface, a life spirit. He’s not dead yet.

Meanwhile his daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is 18 and a few weeks away from going off to college. Perhaps as a response to growing up with bohemian parents, she’s pursuing a sure thing: medicine. She wants the security that a medical degree can bring, but she also has songwriting ability and an unusually good voice. And not just a voice, but pop music instincts—the kind of talent that people often bet their lives on.

One of the nicest things about Hearts Beat Loud, and there are several nice things, is the way that Offerman and Clemons seem like father and daughter. This is the work of the actors, but also of the director. Together they instilled qualities of history and familiarity, as well of an affection that doesn’t need to be expressed. We see it slipping through the cracks, even when they’re getting on each other’s nerves.

If you know anything about this movie going in, you know that it’s about a father and daughter who start writing songs together. It’s weird how that concept presents itself to the mind as something you just don’t want to think about. But Hearts Beat Loud gets over this in a terrific early scene in which the two seem to stumble onto a song, building it out from a riff and a few words, into something full-fledged and truly appealing. The movie takes its name from the song, which benefits from a terrific vocal by Clemons.

Sadness is never too far away in Haley’s scheme of things, and yet there’s something strangely optimistic, or ultimately optimistic, about his vision. You can describe that optimism in a number of ways, but the simplest is that he seems to believe in the value of people. These are dehumanizing times, in life and in movies. In their low-key way, Haley’s films are practically radical.

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