6/15/2018

Movie Review: Hearts Beat Loud (2018)


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Having flirted with original songs and musical moments in his two previous pictures – perhaps most notably in the moving ensemble dramady more deserving of a bigger audience, I'll See You in My Dreams – writer/director Brett Haley decided to fully embrace the genre that made him fall in love with theatrical storytelling back in high school with this summer's feel great indie, Hearts Beat Loud.

Sure to be a word-of-mouth hit, although it's not a traditional musical in the song and dance sense of the word, much like John Carney's recent works Once, Begin Again, and Sing Street, Hearts Beat Loud is centered on the art of making music.


However, much like taking a song we've heard before and putting it in an entirely new key, the fact the characters in the film are father and daughter as opposed to simply two members of a band sets this effort from Haley and co-writer Marc Basch apart from the pack.

Giving it added urgency, Hearts is set during the last summer that Nick Offerman's widowed father Frank Fisher has to spend with his brainy seventeen year old only daughter, Sam (played by Dope's Kiersey Clemons in a star making role) before she's set to trade Red Hook, New York for med school at UCLA.

More than just a mere hobby, as explained by Haley in the press notes, music is Frank and Sam's preferred “mode of communication.” In impromptu jam sessions, Frank's guitar, Sam's keyboard and the lyrics she scribbles in her journal (the same way her rocker turned record store owner father did before her) allow the two speak “the language they know best.”


An obsessive High Fidelity level music encyclopedia, since Frank is clearly the more enthusiastic of the two, initially we get the sense that Sam might just be indulging her father in his favorite ritual. But once we hear her record and mix the song they'd pieced together like a puzzle, we understand not only how tremendously talented the seemingly introverted overachiever is but also just how much she thrives on a musical outlet because it gives her the opportunity to process thoughts to her father she otherwise might not.

Having met a beautiful aspiring artist (played by American Honey star Sasha Lane), it isn't until Frank helps Sam decipher the lyrics she's written which she sings with such earnest soulfulness that she realizes she's fallen in love.

Enjoying her new summer romance even though she's set to leave in the fall, Sam's future is complicated even more after Frank submits the film's infectious title track to Spotify and it begins to catch on.



While, like Once, Hearts is ultimately light on plot, there's much more going on in the film than meets the eye. Perhaps best epitomized near the beginning of the movie – given that we're first introduced to Sam in a class discussion on medical symptoms of the heart right before she meets her love interest – in addition to showcasing the creative process, in Hearts, Haley pays tribute to the way that life inspires art.

Filled with symbolism, the film makes the most of its character driven plot in big ways as Frank faces a future without Sam and/or his failing record store (both of which Haley and Basch inform us are approximately the same age) or small ones as witnessed in a lovely sequence where Sam learns to ride a bike, move forward, and let go.


Complete with a standout soundtrack, the movie boasts four terrific original songs by its composer Keegan DeWitt, who much like Basch has collaborated with Haley on his last two films which premiered at Sundance, much like Hearts.

One of my favorite films of 2018 so far, Hearts Beat Loud achieves the darn near impossible feat of telling the story of a relationship between parents and teens that's not only positive in its tone but also feels real.


And while a great deal of the credit for that goes to the believable chemistry between its two stars, it's buoyed by great character performances from its supporting players throughout, including Toni Collette as Frank's landlord with romantic potential, Ted Danson as his local bar owning friend, plus Haley's I'll See You in My Dreams leading lady Blythe Danner as Frank's dementia laden mother.

Reminiscent of his Cheers days, as the purveyor of bartender wisdom, Danson steals scenes with ease. And although admittedly some of Danson (as well as Sasha Lane's) quotable lines of advice could qualify as signposting – which in most movies could threaten a viewer's suspension-of-disbelief – the reason Hearts gets away with it is owed as much to its genre as its plot.

At a pivotal crossroads in both of their lives, it's safe to assume that both father and daughter could use some guidance. Plus there's something absolutely musical about the brevity of lines such as "you have to be brave before you can be good." And who knows? Their lines just might end up in a song so good that, as with Hearts you'll find yourself wanting to sing along.


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