First off: Brett Haley. Can we just get a round of applause for this guy? He’s way too young to be making such grown up movies, and yet he’s dazzled me with I’ll See You In My Dreams, utterly charmed me with The Hero, and now he’s blown my fucking socks off. And he must be a damn good guy too – not just because he writes such thoughtful, sensitive stuff (the credit for which must be shared with his writing partner Marc Basch), but because his actors keep coming back. I’ll See You In My Dreams gave a much-needed starring role to the lovely Blythe Danner, with Sam Elliott by her side, and then Elliott grabbed the titular role in The Hero, with Nick Offerman as a sidekick, and in Hearts Beat Loud Offerman earns leading man status, with Blythe Danner gracing us with her presence yet again.
Secondly: Nick Offerman. Man. If you’ve known me for more than 30 seconds, you probably know that sort of low-key love him. Not romantically. The kind of love where I’d just happily get into some flannel pajamas and deposit myself between him and his lovely wife (Megan Mullally) and eat cashews with them all day long. Without knowing them personally AT ALL, I get the impression that the Mullally-Offerman household is pretty down to earth and, frankly, a bit goofy. And I think they both make really interesting choices as far as work – not really taking the glitzy roles their TV fame has assured them.
So you had me at Haley. Or Offerman. But both? Are you trying to kill me?
And then the story. Offerman plays Frank Fisher, single (widowed) father to Sam (Kiersey Clemons). The two basically grew up together when a dead wife\mother left them in a puddle of grief, but as Sam has neared adulthood, she’s needed her father less and less. And now that his record store is failing and she’s about to move away for college, Frank is wondering who in the hell he is. His landlady (Toni Collette…oh, did I not mention that the phenomenal Toni Collette is in this?) is sympathetic, his barman\best friend Dave is sympathetic (Ted Danson…oh, did I not mention that Ted Danson is in this, and he’s tending bar???), but good intentions aren’t enough to set this wandering soul on the right path. What does help, enormously, is making music with his daughter. The only problem? He’s ready to start a band with her, and she’s still adamant that medical school is in her immediate future. And what kind of father doesn’t want his brainy daughter to pursue her doctor dreams?
This movie gets everything right, but let me be more specific. The music. The goddamn music. A movie like this can be made or broken by how good the music is. We need to believe that music is a viable option, not just some over-inflated jam session, but a true and fresh talent that’s just waiting to be discovered. And we do. In part because Kiersey Clemons has a stunning voice. I’ve loved her in just about everything I’ve seen her in. She’s glowy yet somehow also unprepossessing. But I’ve never heard her sing before, so when she opened her mouth, I think we all did, in that jaw-droppy, holy shit kind of way. But let’s also throw heaps of praise Keegan DeWitt’s way. He’s Haley’s music guy (well, not just Haley’s – dude is in demand, and this movie makes clear why) and he helps to create this sound that is infectious, but also believable from a father-daughter duo, but wouldn’t be out of place on the radio or, perhaps, on my record player (hint, hint).
The music’s lyrics help advance the story as the two write heartfelt songs that are as gutting as they are toe-tapping. Did I cry? Of course I cried. What am I, some sort of monster? But ultimately, as the director himself puts it, Hearts Beat Loud is an “unabashed feel-good film.” It’s also mature and wise and casually inclusive, but screw that – it’s a damn good movie, a fun movie that presses gently on the heart’s chords, and one that deserves to be seen, and then hummed merrily on the way home.