Few turning points in life are as uncertain, hopeful, and pulsing with promise than the summer after graduating high school. And not just for students — for the parents, too. In HEARTS BEAT LOUD, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), determined to become a doctor, spends this time preparing to study pre-med at UCLA in the fall and hanging out with her girlfriend Rose (Sasha Lane). Her widowed father Frank (Nick Offerman), in contrast, languishes in his often-empty record store while harboring unresolved dreams of becoming a successful musician.

With a bit of nagging, Frank gets Sam to write and record a song with him. The result, the uplifting “Hearts Beat Loud” anthem, becomes a Spotify hit and catches the attention of an agent. Frank thinks it’s the start of something big, and he decides to close his record store and pressure his daughter to form a band with him.

But Sam has her eyes set on the future. She doesn’t want to give up her college plans to indulge her father’s optimism, even though she has a beautiful voice. Meanwhile, Frank’s landlady and possible love interest, Leslie (Toni Collette), proposes a business plan to revitalize the record store he wants to quit.

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Sam and Frank perform in their record store (Courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky)

Brett Haley, who directed and co-wrote the film, said he desired to make a “sweet movie” that would allow audiences to forget about their problems for ninety minutes. Unlike an advertisement for a McDonald’s burger, HEARTS BEAT LOUD delivers what it promises.

There are no villains, no plot twists, no unexpected detours from emotional stability. But there are endearing and quirky characters, loving-but-complex relationships, and an ever-present appreciation of music that come together to form a heartwarming movie.

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HEARTS BEAT LOUD Invests in Relationships

It takes place in Red Hook, Brooklyn, but the film’s world is small and tranquil. Haley relegates technology and the internet to the background. It’s free of racism, offense, and malice; the only enemy is time. This, along with the film’s vibrant color palette, makes the film incredibly soothing and pleasing to watch. The bubble-like setting also allows HEARTS BEAT LOUD to shine a spotlight on its characters’ sweet and intimate relationships.

Frank and Leslie spiral around each other, crossing paths unpredictably with various levels of intimacy. They become a pair to root for. Unlike most attractions in film, it’s actually difficult to predict where their relationship is headed. Will they become just friends, business partners, more than that, or will their relationship completely dissolve? Sam is in a more defined relationship with Rose, and their chemistry is so adorable and affectionate and giggly that it’s clear Kiersey and Sasha must be close in real life (they’re friends).

The main treat is the drama, love, and heartbreak of the father-daughter music duo. Sam and Frank perfectly oppose each other: medical school versus band, serious versus silly, future versus present. Music brings them closer. It’s a delight to watch them jam out together, and it hurts to see them fight.

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Courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky

Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons Shine as Father and Daughter

Sam wants to become a doctor to do good and to gain more economic stability for her and her father. Kiersey Clemons conveys Sam’s steadfast ambitions well while making her vulnerable enough to win over our sympathy. But as much as I felt for Sam’s pragmatism, Nick Offerman’s Frank stole the show for me.

Optimistic, goofy, and innocent, he provides fodder for most of the film’s comedic moments. He’s lovable and easy to root for, so even when he carries out questionable and impulsive actions, we understand him. Sam may want to reign him in, but I tended to side with Frank’s desire to chase his musical dreams and convince his daughter to join him.

Offerman’s wide, hopeful blue eyes and gruff voice perfectly evoke a boy trapped in an older man’s body. This only makes the moments where Frank experiences pain or sadness — whether over the absence of Sam’s mother, the rift between him and his daughter or fighting with Leslie — ever more tragic and heartbreaking.

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Nick Offerman playing a hip dad (Courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky)

 

Sam’s Unique Background

HEARTS BEAT LOUD plays it safe most of the time. But it stands out in that the main character, Sam, is half black, lesbian, and raised by a single dad. This could have veered off into gimmicky college essay territory (“Admit me!”).

But Sam’s upbringing and background aren’t given special treatment. They don’t beg to be noticed. Met with no opposition in the film, they’re just natural aspects of her identity, as they should be. (Also, hats off to HBL for having a teen character who isn’t interested in drugs or alcohol and is instead focused on her studies and pursuing her future career.)

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HEARTS BEAT LOUD is also Haley’s love letter to music — to how it uplifts the soul, to how it brings people together. Clemons and Offerman are actually singing in their on-screen performances, although their vocals are so strong you can’t even tell the difference between them and a studio recording. The soundtrack is upbeat, nostalgic, moving, and most importantly, catchy. The eponymous song “Hearts Beat Loud” crops up multiple times, but its uplifting sentiment never gets old, and it reminds us of the delight in creating music with people you love.

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Courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky

The film rests at a feel-good equilibrium for most of its running time and the plot fluctuations aren’t quite tear-inducing or fist-clenching. Sam and Frank have only so many options. But that’s not a bad thing; the film just reflects the conflicts and messiness of everyday life, which is rarely shocking and histrionic.

Watching HEARTS BEAT LOUD was like enjoying a piece of cake. The experience won’t forever be burned in my mind, but it was sweet and satisfying while it lasted.

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