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American idle

A father and daughter use music to get out of their funk in ‘Hearts Beat Loud’



Kiersey Clemons and Nick Offerman in “Hearts Beat Loud”

Writer/Director Brett Haley is a slice-of-life auteur. He crafts intimate portraits of average people at life-defining crossroads.

Two of his previous films, “The Hero” and “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” each deal with aging. Now, in “Hearts Beat Loud,” Haley sifts the musical charms and depth of “Once” and “Sing Street” through a father-daughter filter.

Nick Offerman (“Parks & Recreation”) plays Frank Fisher, a single dad who can’t afford to keep his Brooklyn vinyl record store afloat. His daughter Sam (newcomer Kiersey Clemons) is prepping to go to medical school while also falling for a new girlfriend (Sasha Lane, “American Honey”), and Frank’s landlord, Leslie (Toni Collette, “Hereditary”), keeps sending him mixed romantic signals.

As these life chapters appear to close, Frank and Sam create a new, unexpected bond when they write a song together. A really good song. But rather than following a predictable arc of grassroots success, “Hearts Beat Loud” uses their collaboration to explore relationship gaps and deep-seated uncertainties.

Frank wants them to start a band. Sam resists, rolling her eyes at the thought. Her disaffection, however, masks risk-averse insecurities rooted in fear created by her mother’s tragic death. Sam claims to be the responsible one, but it’s a cop-out.

They’re each burdened with their own angst—lived-in and cumulative, not tortured, overwrought, or forced. That all sounds pretty heavy, and no doubt these emotions are dealt with honestly, but “Hearts Beat Loud” is a film of unadulterated joy, the kind that rises as music taps deep into the soul and liberates it.

Their journey isn’t marked by cheap sentiment; it’s cautious and delicate as father and daughter embark on tender new territory. “Hearts Beat Loud” is never cloying and loath to warm fuzzies, yet it delivers all the feels.

The leads shine in this actor’s showcase (another Haley staple). Offerman reveals fragile layers beneath his familiar, manly persona as Clemons guardedly represses a beaming charisma that yearns to break free. Their original songs, by Keegan DeWitt, are catchy, addictive indie pop tracks. When strangers are wowed by them, you buy it.

There’s an extended ad hoc concert that Frank and Sam perform during the film’s final act, but rather than being a lazy denouement that leans heavily on a hipster soundtrack, it’s a truly passionate crescendo—an organic fruition of the seeds that Haley has planted (and nurtured) along the way. It’s quite a payoff.

Sometimes the most relevant movies have nothing to do with the big issues of the day. They de-politicize topics that other films would soapbox (a mixed-race daughter and lesbian young love, in this case), speaking beyond the specifics of their characters and stories to tap into something universal.

You may not directly identify with the people you’re watching, or their circumstances, but you know exactly what they’re going through. In some form or another you’ve gone through it, too.

“Hearts Beat Loud” lives up to its title in the quietest of ways. In doing so, it makes our hearts beat, too, then burst, and finally soar.

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