a SIFF 2018 review
Raucous Hearts Beat Loud an Energetic Anthem of Joy
It’s hard to imagine a film being released this year that will have anything close to the same amount of pure, unadulterated joy fused to its DNA as director Brett Haley’s (I’ll See You in My Dreams) latest character-driven drama Hearts Beat Loud exhibits with such intoxicating enthusiasm. A musical journey that follows a father-daughter relationship through the waning days of a New York summer before she takes off to attend college at UCLA, this movie couldn’t be more enjoyable. Haley’s crafted something memorably genuine, and along with Paddington 2, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Wanderland this tightly structured little story about love, family, friendship and kindness is a total delight I absolutely adored.
Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) owns a small New York record store. His ambitious daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) dreams of becoming a doctor, the teenager taking college preparatory pre-med classes over the summer before she leaves to attend college at UCLA. The two of them also get together a couple of times a week for a jam session, father and child playing around with lyrics and music as they knock out some songs for what can only be assumed to be for their own enjoyment.
But Frank marvels at Sam’s songwriting skills and her emotionally confident vocals, and as such he’s always joking that the two of them should start a band and play some local clubs in order to see what might happen. Secretly he uploads their latest song to Spotify, never dreaming that it might go viral. Meanwhile, even though she’s leaving for a California in just a few months Sam has started an unexpected romance with local girl Rose (Sasha Lane), the pair’s strong connection throwing something of a wrench into the young woman’s future plans.
For the most part it is Sam’s relationships with both her father and her girlfriend that drive Haley and co-writer Marc Basch’s (The Hero) script forward. There are a small handful of additional subplots, most notably ones involving Frank’s decision to close his record store due to rising rents and the way this subtly changes his friendship with landlord Leslie (Toni Collette). There’s also some stuff involving his aging mother Marianne (Blythe Danner) and how her struggles affect both he and Rose, but that section of the film is never developed as comfortably or as complexly as other facets of the story are. Overall, Haley and Basch’s screenplay balances its various ideas with confidence, the father-daughter story at the heart of things having a delicate naturalistic specificity that’s wondrous.
I love how natural everything feels. There is no condescension. No pandering to the audience’s baser melodramatic needs. Haley assumes his viewers have a brain, that they’re okay with putting certain pieces of the puzzle together themselves, all the while understanding it is that core relationship between a father and his only child that matters more than anything else. More than that, he allows the other characters who come in and out of their lives to be realistic, to not behave like standard genre drones who fit any number of stereotypical typecast roles a lesser story would insist they become. This is a film that oozes authenticity, making all that happens hit home in ways it never could have otherwise.
Leslie is Frank’s friend. She likes hanging out with him and is sincerely saddened when he informs him of his intentions to close the shop. But she doesn’t need to blossom into a love interest, doesn’t need to be some female ideal who will help pushes her male associate’s story forward to the detriment of her own. The same goes for Rose. There is a knowing intricacy to her understanding of what is happening between herself and Sam that doesn’t need any additional exposition trying to put what’s happening into any greater context. Her silence can oftentimes speak volumes, Haley refusing to have her needlessly vocalize what is going on when the grace and cerebral majesty of Lane’s performance triumphantly speaks for itself.
I can’t say the subplot involving Danner works that well, and as magnificently as the filmmaker utilized the actress in I’ll See You in My Dreams, I honestly can’t recall a single second involving her happening inside this film. While little moments between her character and Clemons’s Sam brought a smile to my face, that doesn’t mean I can remember what those scenes were about and why it was they were supposed to matter. This is one case where Haley’s otherwise laudable use of restraint works against him, and I do think the story would have benefited had these brief sequences been fleshed out a bit more than they frustratingly are.
No matter. The rest of Hearts Beat Loud is so profoundly effervescent my adoration for it is beyond substantial. Not only are the songs Frank and Sam compose and perform magnificent, the emotions fueling them are equally tremendous. Offerman gives the type of relaxed, effortlessly determined performance that reminded me of what singer/songwriter Glen Hansard accomplished in John Carney’s 2007 classic Once. He disappears into the role, the veteran comedian and character actor simply mesmerizing throughout the film. As for relative newcomer Clemons, she makes even more of an impression here as Sam than she did in Rick Famuyiwa’s award-winning Dope. Not only does she sing the heck out of every one of the killer songs, her chemistry with Lane is off the charts. Then there are the plethora of moments where Clemons and Offerman share the screen together, my heart bubbling over in pure, unabashed adulation for every one of them, the two actors crafting a father-daughter relationship that’s magnetically authentic in all of its rapturous minutia.
Haley’s movies tend to fly under the radar and, quite frankly, they need to stop doing so. I’ll See You in My Dreams contained an award-worthy turn from Blythe Danner that ranks as one of the decade’s crowning achievements. In The Hero, the filmmaker gave a role to iconic character actor Sam Elliott that on one hand defined his entire legendary career while on the other expanded it into new, deeply affecting corners of cinematic consciousness that were extraordinary. With Hearts Beat Loud, the talented filmmaker has composed a universally accessible human drama of music, romance and family that brought tears to my eyes while at the same time had me wanting to leap out of my seat in order to give it a hearty cheer. Haley has done it once again, and here’s hoping audiences take the time to head out to the theatre so they can experience this ecstatically raucous gem and see so for themselves.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 3½ (out of 4)