S ometimes the performance of one actor can make a film worth seeing. Writer/director Brett Haley clearly understands this—the number one reason to see his 2017 film The Hero was the performance of Sam Elliott, and the number one reason to see his latest feature, Hearts Beat Loud, is the vibrant performance of Kiersey Clemons.
Clemons plays Sam Fisher, daughter of widower Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman). Father and daughter couldn’t be more different: Sam is a top student heading off in the fall to do pre-med at UCLA, while Frank is an aging hippie who once dreamed of a musical career and today runs a record store in Red Hook. Today the shop is endangered due to rising rents, but in any case it’s not clear how they could have survived on what can’t have been much of an income—Frank is an older version of John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity, more interested in maintaining his sense of superiority over customers than in selling records, and isn’t interested in cashing in on the hipster taste for vinyl—but they have a spacious and comfortable apartment, nice clothes, and apparently none of the problems that tend accompany real, rather than hipster, poverty, from bad teeth to poor education to abuse by the police.
One thing Sam and Frank have in common is music. When Frank is able to entice his studious daughter away from her textbooks to jam with him, the result is a song that he uploads to Spotify without telling her (bad move, dad!), where it gains some traction. He takes this as a sign that his musical dreams might yet be realized, and before long he’s planning their national tour, again without checking with Sam or considering her very specific career plans (and the special challenges she will face in science and medicine as a queer black woman). He’s also oblivious of the odds against any musicians, however talented, making serious money in this day and age (and he certainly doesn’t realize that Spotify is part of the problem—getting your music heard may be easier than ever, but making a living from it is something else again.
Despite his gray beard, Frank has the maturity of a teenager, making him one in a long line of cinematic man-boys who just don’t want to grow up. Although Offerman makes his character charming, your patience with this particular archetype will certainly influence how much you enjoy this film. Another is your patience or lack thereof with the romanticized view of supposed poverty, and Frank’s incomprehension of the role that he played, as a “pioneer” in what was once considered a slum neighborhood, in bringing about the gentrification that is now pricing him out of the market.
Hearts Beat Loud has a strong supporting cast, including Blythe Danner as Frank’s mother, who apparently suffers from dementia, Toni Collette as his landlord, and Ted Danson as his bartender, and most of all Sasha Lane as Sam’s girlfriend. Lane and Clemons’ scenes together, as two young women enjoying a summer romance in the big city, are the sweetest moments in the film. | Sarah Boslaugh