At its heart, Heart Beats Loud, the latest film from director/co-writer Brett Haley, is a film about facing the sometimes unpleasant reality of change. Like last year’s The Hero, which had Sam Elliot playing a fictionalized version of himself coming to terms with his long past and shorter future, Heart Beats Loud’s characters stand at their own respective crossroads, and have to come to terms the choices they each have to make.
Frank (Nick Offerman) is a single father and “purveyor of pressed vinyl” (his character’s words), while his daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is taking pre-med courses as she prepares to head to UCLA in the fall. Over the course of that summer, the two of them write and record a song together during one of their nightly jam sessions.
While Sam sees it as some harmless father/daughter bonding, Frank latches onto the idea that they could become the next big thing, and tries to push his daughter into staying behind so they can record an EP while booking gigs at the Mercury Lounge. Sam sees her father’s enthusiasm as short-sighted and childish, and even comes to resent him for suggesting she should put of her career path to chase his impossible dream of making it big in the music business.
It also makes some subtle commentary on the state of music in general, as Frank’s faced with the reality of having to shutter his record shop after 17 years as more and more people can download limitless songs to their phones for a low monthly fee. Unlike many of cinema’s analogue music snobs, however, Frank’s not resistant to the digital era. In that same scene, he listens to a Jeff Tweedy video on YouTube, and later uses Spotify to help get his music in front of a larger audience knowing it’s the best path to launch their career.
The character of Frank was written specifically with Offerman in mind, who had a small role in The Hero, and he absolutely shines in his first major role. He even quipped at the Q&A after the SXSW premiere that he was nothing short of elated to have a scene that was comprised solely of him walking down the street, finally being given a character that the audience would care about enough to wonder how his day was going.
It’s fitting then that he has such a worthy on-screen counterpart with Clemons, who not only embodies the role of Sam, but is able to show off her considerable talent for music as well. She’s so captivating as a vocalist, in fact, that it makes you understand why Frank would be so willing to believe they have a chance at succeeding as a band.
On that note (pun intended), it’s very much worth noting the songs of Keegan Dewitt, who worked closely with Haley to craft original songs for the film that not only underscore its characters unique predicaments, but manage to stay with you long after the credits role. Seriously, I’ve had the title track, “Heart Beats Loud,” in my head for three days now.
While it’s only Haley’s third full-length feature, he’s already proven he has a real knack for crafting compelling, character-driven dramas. He’s a less a filmmaker, and more an immersive storyteller, one who gifts his characters with a strong dramatic foundation, balancing that out with a real-world levity that never seems like it’s embellished for cinematic effect.