Before “Hearts Beat Loud” began at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, director Brett Haley (“The Hero,” “I’ll See You in My Dreams”) strutted to the stage to speak. While introductions to a film often feel more obligatory than necessary, Haley leaned into sincerity. He explained that in these chaotic times, he wanted to make a “sweet movie.” The kind of film “that makes you feel good and helps to forget your problems for 90 minutes.”
What he wanted is what we received. For the duration of “Hearts Beat Loud,” you’ll often attempt to unearth the stakes. You’ll wonder when tragedy may strike, or if plans will go dangerously awry. Here’s a not-so surprising spoiler: they don’t.
Written by Haley and frequent collaborator Marc Basch, the story begins inside Red Hook Records, a Brooklyn vinyl shop operated by Frank (Nick Offerman). He’s a single father to Sam (Kiersey Clemons), who’s spending her final summer in New York City before leaving for UCLA pre-med. Together they have each other, a hiply outfitted apartment and, sometimes, music.
Despite Sam’s initial reluctance, the familial pair make an unlikely (and unique) songwriting duo. She offers most of the lyrics and the vocals, while her father plays guitar and drums. One morning after a particularly inspired jam session, Frank finds himself listening to what they recorded as he stands behind the counter of his struggling record store. Inspired by their creation, he submits the song to Spotify. Days later, while purchasing some pastries at his local bakery, he hears their song. They’ve made it! Or, ya know, they’ve made it onto some curated playlist of new indie releases.
“Hearts Beat Loud” involves a father and daughter dynamic in transition, a lot of original music provided by Keegan DeWitt, and charm. It gets away with missteps because of how consistently heartwarming and affable the people on screen are. Clemons and Offerman are especially effective, with Frank’s earnestness comically shot down by Clemons’ quick-witted preciousness.
“You have to grow up,” the college-bound teen routinely tells her father. No one will bat an eye that line. Frank is living out his musical dreams vicariously through his offspring. She knows it; he knows it.
The sidepieces of the film are less intriguing, despite the actors involved. Toni Collette pulls double duty as part landlord, part potential love interest to Frank. Their budding romance comes across as an afterthought though. Same for Ted Danson, who generally can do no wrong behind the counter of a neighborhood bar. The “Cheers” stunt casting delights at first, but the role, a serene and stoned confidant to a troubled Frank, seems to have been written for someone like Sam Elliott (star of two of Haley’s features). Again, even when the script missteps, there’s never an unwatchable moment here. It’s hard to go wrong when you have Offerman and Danson cracking jokes and drinking together.
Of all the ancillary characters, though, it’s Sasha Lane (“American Honey”) as Rose that Haley gets right. With college on the horizon, Sam and Rose end up in a late-summer affair. Their screen-time together is minimal, in part because Frank and Sam are constantly making music. But when the two young actresses are given the opportunity, they connect.
There’s an easy rapport to the couple that needs no explanation. Their chemistry is immediately present, even if they both know that their expiration date is rapidly approaching. It’s in these bittersweet moments “Hearts Beat Loud” finds some footing.
In both watching the film and reading its log-line, everything about Haley’s film feels like your standard Sundance fare. The cutesy synopsis, the unavoidable hipsterism, the nagging feeling that you’re being manipulated by a cast of characters designed to be endearing. All of these descriptions are apt, and yet none of them can quite take away from the project’s inherent likability.
The messiness of the script or the lack of an aesthetic approach just don’t seem to matter all that much. “Hearts Beats Loud” knows exactly what it is. Haley doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel. He doesn’t even really want to challenge the viewer. His art is created to comfort.