Photos | Stage 6 Films / Twentieth Century Fox
From left: Nick Offerman shines in “Hearts Beat Loud” as a widower coping with the prospect of an empty nest. Jon Hamm and Jeff Bridges are among the stars in “Bad Times at the El Royale,” set at a roadside fleabag motel in the 1960s.
Nick Offerman shines in a change of pace from his alpha-male-with-a-heart-of-gold persona in “Hearts Beat Loud,” in which he plays Frank Fisher, a widower coping with an impending empty nest. His beloved only daughter Sam, played with effervescent intelligence by Kelsey Clemmons (“Dope”), is preparing to leave for college across the country and, in a reversal from the majority of parental wishes, Frank is trying to get her to abandon pre-med to start a band. With him.
Frank owns a record store — what else? — in his lifelong neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn, but gentrification and, most likely, his surly demeanor are closing its doors. His landlord (Toni Collette) is sympathetic to his cause and even more so to him, and they are an unusually realistic on-screen pairing. They fill in every scene with a sense of history and shared experience. Another able supporting cast member is the always great Ted Danson, playing a bar owner who also remembers the days when he chased stardom.
With Frank’s comfortable but precarious existence in upheaval, his greatest pain is the departure of his daughter. In carefully doled out moments of explanation, and especially in beautifully underplayed emotions from Offerman, we understand how her departure will reopen the wounds of his wife’s death, how Sam’s leaving will amount to losing his wife again.
The couple had a band together, and now Frank cherishes his jam sessions with Sam above everything else. Inspired by her growing talent, which he compares to that of her late mother, Frank uploads a song called “Hearts Beat Loud” to Spotify, and to his extreme delight it picks up a bit of traction. It’s truly heartbreaking to see this sweet, grown, bearded man in cargo shorts trying to convince his daughter to go on tour with him. She is the one who reminds him of their responsibilities.
I love a plotless, underplayed movie, but this film at times tries to avoid emotion too much, even for me. I hate sappiness, but you don’t have to neglect the viewers’ heartstrings altogether. There are plot elements the writers could have explored further to deepen the story, and I think the realistic performances would have remained intact. But there’s no way a climactic scene with the father and daughter playing in the record store could have been any better. I will remember those two characters, and the songs themselves, for a long time.
Filmed on location in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood, this film delivers an evocative feeling of really being in New York, and reminds me of another short, sweet flick about making music, “Begin Again.” Like that one, this film has some truly exciting and enjoyable scenes that linger over the process of making music. It is sweet and moving and funny, and so much fun to watch it is almost a guilty pleasure. But in the capable hands of a great cast, the film never overplays its hand.
“Hearts Beat Loud” is quietly stirring, not grandly epic, and gratifyingly realistic. The plot avoids pie-in-the-sky clichés of stardom, and instead creates a beautiful father-daughter pair and gives us a glimpse into an important season of their lives. Watch it with your people.
“Hearts Beat Loud” is currently available to rent.