Producer: Houston King, Sam Bisbee and Sam Slater
Director: Brett Haley
Writer: Brett Haley and Marc Basch
Stars: Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Ted Danson, Blythe Danner, Toni Collette and Sasha Lane
Studio: Gunpowder and Sky
Well, at least they aren’t named Partridge.
“Hearts Beat Loud” is Brett Haley’s follow-up to his two modest, and moderately successful, films about older characters, “I’ll See You in My Dreams” (with Blythe Danner) and “The Hero” (with Sam Elliott). Danner takes a supporting role in this film, but it’s not nearly as effective as either of them.
The focus of the script, written by Haley and Marc Basch, is Frank (Nick Offerman), a widower who runs a store in Red Hook where used vinyl LPs seem the sole items on sale; it’s a business that, not surprisingly, is not a smashing success (especially since he sees no need to treat his few customers with much attention), putting him in danger of falling behind in paying the rent to his landlady Leslie (Toni Collette). She’s not pushy about it, though, even suggesting that she can help the shop by adding a coffee bar, but he’s resistant to the idea. It’s also obvious that she’s attracted to him, but he’s too proud even to ask her out.
Frank’s daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is a bright girl at the point of leaving New York to study for a medical degree in California. She’s serious and studious, but also in the midst of a romance with Rose (Sasha Lane), whom she met at an art exhibit.
And Frank has another issue to deal with: his mother (Danner) has incipient dementia, and is periodically forgetting to pay for the items she picks up while out shopping. The police are sympathetic, but it’s clear he’s going to have to make new arrangements for her.
Despite all his troubles, Frank’s main preoccupation remains his love of music. He’s an aging wannabe who still harbors the childish dream of making it as a singer-songwriter, a dream that his friend Dave (Ted Danson), a bartender at a local water hole, suggests he might be wise to abandon.
Frank has long encouraged Sam to play keyboard to his guitar, and despite her protests that she has to study, she indulges him, and in one of their improvised sessions, they come up with the song that serves as the movie’s title. Frank posts it online as being performed by “We’re Not a Band,” and it takes off, eventually even garnering an offer of representation from a record executive. Frank cajoles Sam into collaborating on some additional songs, but when he suggests that she consider giving up, or at least postponing, her medical school plans to grab the chance at a career as his band partner, their very different dreams diverge.
To be honest, this is pretty thin cinematic gruel, and it certainly isn’t made any more palatable by the songs that have been newly fashioned by Keegan Dewitt, which have the blandly formulaic sound of most of today’s pop tunes—there’s so familiar they wouldn’t be out of place in a contemporary Broadway musical. The notion that they would excite listeners in major numbers stretches credulity.
But the cast is agreeable. Offerman overdoes the laid-back ex-hippie bit somewhat, but he at least keeps Frank from becoming a strident stage dad, and Danson, whose character is identified as an erstwhile actor who gave up his aspirations to stardom, as he encourages Frank to do, complements him nicely. Clemons shows promise as the daughter who doesn’t want to disappoint her dad but won’t give up her own dreams, but Collette is stuck in thankless role, and the plot thread involving Danner doesn’t go anywhere. On the technical side, the movie is adequate, though its occasional use of musical montages is, as usual, a mistake, italicizing a lack of storytelling imagination.
Ultimately “Hearts Beat Loud” is a good-natured, inoffensive little movie, though it’s as instantly forgettable as the generic tunes its father and daughter compose together.