'Hearts Beat Loud': Film Review | Sundance 2018

A sincere, occasionally touching family dramedy with a music backdrop.

'The Hero' director Brett Haley returns to Sundance with a semi-musical about a man (Nick Offerman) who just wants his daughter (Kiersey Clemons) to be in a band with him.

A light emptying-the-nest drama in which a father uses music as a ruse to keep his daughter from leaving home, Brett Haley's Hearts Beat Loud threatens at moments to become a musical. It isn't, which, given the melodramatic nature of the tunes it does offer, will be just fine with many music lovers of its elder protagonist's age. Heartfelt and unassuming but likely to prompt a few complaints that it doesn't ring true, the pic sold to Gunpowder & Sky before its premiere at Sundance.

Haley, at the fest last year with the Sam Elliott vehicle The Hero, sets the action in Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood, where middle-aged Frank (Nick Offerman) runs a barely surviving record store. Old-school, vinyl-packed and a hangout for locals with good taste, the place is surely inspired by (though much larger than) an actual record store in Red Hook run by Bene Coopersmith, who starred in last year's Sundance entry Person to Person. Though Haley is eager to squeeze in other genuine local color, from sweet-shop Baked to stalwart bar Sunny's, Coopersmith's shop isn't mentioned even as a thank-you in the credits.

Learning that his rent is about to be raised by the landlord he enjoys flirting with (Toni Collette's Leslie), Frank decides he's going to close the shop down. That's a hard decision for a man in his shoes, but Frank is still in the denial stage when it comes to another big goodbye: Daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons), an excellent student, plans to move cross-country to study medicine at UCLA. Having lost her mother 11 years ago, he's not ready to be a household of one.

(Actually, Frank may have another family member at home soon — his increasingly out-of-touch mom, played by Blythe Danner — but this is a subplot the film remembers only at convenient moments.)

Sam continues to indulge Frank in the occasional "jam sesh," playing keyboards to his guitar. When she loses herself in a sequence of introspective chords one day, Frank pounces, improvising a guitar line and encouraging her to sing. After a quick montage, they have the movie's title song recorded.

Without the songwriter's knowledge, Frank uploads it to Spotify. And in one of the least likely oh-my-god moments in the history of music films, on his next visit to the corner bakery, his song is streaming on a playlist alongside Iron & Wine and Spoon. On the strength of the one song, Frank starts trying to book gigs for the "band." For an uncomfortably long time, the movie seems to share his delusions, even having a record label guy hunt Frank down to promise he can "monetize this thing."

Meanwhile, Sam is falling in love with Rose (Sasha Lane), a girl she met at a show of work by prominent Red Hook artist Dustin Yellin. It's a sweet romance, even if Rose is prone to pronouncements like "All dreams are unrealistic" and "You gotta be brave before you can be good." Sadly, bravery for Sam is going to mean leaving Rose for the West Coast.

Ted Danson plays Dave, the fictional owner of the very real Sunny's bar, which he seems to have run ever since leaving Cheers behind. The role is clearly in Danson's wheelhouse (not just the bartender part, but the relaxed, pot-connoisseur part), and Dave's friendship with Frank goes a long way toward rooting the picture. Frank's will they/won't they interactions with landlord Leslie are a bit more contrived, providing Frank with an occasion for some sloshed bad behavior from which he can later rebound.

For some, the four songs Frank and Sam concoct together (written by film composer Keegan Dewitt) will be a highlight. They're sprinkled throughout, then showcased in a final concert that feels too Hollywood for its underdog setting. When all's said and done, father and daughter make peace with their respective places in the world, setting their sights on more realistic goals.

Production companies: Burn Later Productions, Houston King Productions, Park Pictures
Distributor: Gunpowder & Sky
Cast: Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Ted Danson, Blythe Danner, Toni Collette, Sasha Lane
Director: Brett Haley
Screenwriters: Brett Haley, Marc Basch
Producers: Houston King, Sam Bisbee, Sam Slater
Executive producers: Franklin Carson, Paul Bernon, David Bernon, Theadora Dunlap, Jackie Kelman Bisbee, Lance Acord, Danny Rifkin, Frank Brenner, Nick Offerman
Director of photography: Eric Lin
Production designer: Erin Magill
Costume designer: Melissa Vargas
Editor: Patrick Colman
Composer: Keegan Dewitt
Casting director: Tiffany Canfield
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Premieres)
Sales: Endeavor Content

96 minutes