Film Review: ‘Hearts Beat Loud’ is the Song of the Summer

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There’s magic to be found within this movie. “Hearts Beat Loud” is like a great album, washing over you with different ebbs and flows. Full of emotion, humor, and tremendous music, the film is brilliant bit of summer counter programming. Filmmaker Brett Haley has under the radar become a master of this sort of work. He’s one of the only auteurs out there making crowd pleasing adult independent fare, not to mention someone still adding Original Songs to his work. Haley has a true feel for makes for a satisfying cinematic experience. Reliant not on special effects or flashy visuals, he instead gives you characters you care about. “Hearts Beat Loud” is just the latest example of this. A ray of love in a sea of hate, it’s the kind of movie we need right now.

“Hearts Beat Loud” traffics in love, inclusion, and of course, good music. Haley has always mixed light comedy and drama with his observational character studies, but this is the first time that true happiness and joy radiates out from his work. While “The Hero” may be the more moving film, this one somehow feels even more emotional. To be sure, some of that has to do with the songs from composer Keegan DeWitt. Having put forward Oscar nomination worthy original tunes for “I’ll See You In My Dreams” as well as the aforementioned “The Hero,” DeWitt is Haley’s secret weapon. Here, he’s once again doing Academy Award level work.

Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) has reached a crossroads in his middle aged life. The record store he owns in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn is struggling, with his grizzled attitude inspiring millennials to take their business to Amazon and iTunes. That’s led him to consider closing up shop. At the same time, his mother Marianne (Blythe Danner) is battling senility and the need to be cared for. Plus, his daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is getting ready to head to California for Medical School. All of this at once is a lot, especially for a man who never full grew up. You get the sense that stasis is his comfort zone, be it sitting at the bar his friend Dave (Ted Danson) owns, or halfheartedly flirting with his landlord Leslie (Toni Collette). Then, something happens to spark his passion again.

For years, Frank and Sam have had father-daughter jam sessions, a tribute to the musical talent that runs throughout the family. Frank’s late wife was in a band with him, and her ability has been passed down to Sam. Currently more interested in studying, Sam is finally cajoled into playing a bit with Frank one night, and some magic happens. Buoyed by a potential first love in Rose (Sasha Lane), Sam writes a brilliant song called “Hearts Beat Loud,” and Frank thinks there’s something there. She’s nonplussed, insisting that they’re not a band, but he uploads their single to Spotify (calling themselves “We’re Not A Band”). Out of nowhere, it’s an instant hit, leading Frank to contemplate finally realizing his musical dreams. Of course, Sam is conflicted, as impending college, plus Rose, are bigger priorities. It all culminates in a climax of love, music, and genuine movie magic.

Nick Offerman has been overdue for a leading man role, so kudos to Brett Haley for giving it to him. Haley has promoted his supporting players to leads throughout his career, and Offerman continues the home runs that come along with that. Gruff and funny as always, he also projects a ton of heart. The vulnerability displayed by Offerman is palpable, especially during one song. There’s also the legitimate fatherly pride that he displays. You watch Frank beam when his daughter plays music and you can’t help but smile. Without question, this is the best work of his career so far. Sam Elliott remains the crowning Haley performances to date, but this one from Offerman isn’t far behind.

Another revelation is that Kiersey Clemons is not only a great actress, but an incredible singer as well. When she belts out the title track, it’s hard not to lose yourself in the flick. Clemons is a major find. You buy her relationship with Offerman as an unconventional one, as well as her budding love with Sasha Lane. The chemistry all around is extraordinary. Lane could have used a few more scenes, but she makes the most of her time with Clemons. In terms of the other supporting players, Blythe Danner and Ted Danson don’t get a whole lot to do, but they’re welcome presences. Toni Collette is having a moment this week with “Hereditary” too, though this is a charming turn to add to her resume. The cast from top to bottom is compelling and likable, another Haley trademark.

Co-writer/director Brett Haley doesn’t get the credit he deserves as an artist. With his co-writer Marc Basch, he’s been turning out the sort of movies that just don’t get made anymore. “Hearts Beat Loud” is another terrific example of this, a crowd pleaser that a few decades ago would have been a no brainer studio production. Hollywood has shunned this sort of work to the independent world, but Haley pays that no mind. Here, he focuses on music and positivity in a way you can’t help but love. Basch and Haley have a talent for creating characters you want to spend time with. Cinematographer Eric Lin helps Haley transition seamlessly from a west coast to an east coast setting, with a true New York feel to it. Then, there’s the music.

The soundtrack here is one of the best in years. Keegan DeWitt should be a no brainer Best Original Song nominee. A campaign for “Blink (One Million Miles)” would make a ton of sense, especially how it’s utilized in the third act. Title song “Hearts Beat Loud” is a catchy hit in the making, while “Everything Must Go” is another winner. DeWitt has always done tremendous work for Haley, and here he fully showcases just how talented he is.

There’s a magic alchemy that “Hearts Beat Loud” has up its sleeve. The end result is one of the year’s best and most enjoyable films. 2018 is lucky to have this Haley effort. You’d have to be dead inside not to smile at this work. Especially as the real world seems to be turning into more and more of a dumpster fire, this is what we need. Do yourself a favor and see this movie ASAP. Consider it a form of mental health. For your own wellbeing, let “Hearts Beat Loud” whisk you away for 97 minutes. You’ll thank me later.

“HEARTS BEAT LOUD” IS DISTRIBUTED BY GUNPOWDER & SKY AND OPENS IN THEATERS ON JUNE 8.

GRADE: (★★★½)