You can almost look at “Hearts Beat Loud” as something of an urban “Once,” in where music is something of the soul behind a very human story of two lost individuals in a somewhat turbulent world. This time around we meet father and daughter Sam and Frank, both of whom never really healed from a horrendous loss that they experienced many years before the narrative starts. In one instance, Frank literally sits at the scene of his wife’s death, which is still a memorial standing in the middle of a busy street, and tries to figure out where to go next.
Frank is the owner of a Brooklyn record shop facing its inevitable closure, and has to come to terms with losing it especially as he dwells on an unfulfilled music career. As well, his only daughter Sam is on the way to college shortly to pursue a medical career at UCLA. Things take a dramatic turn when Frank and Sam collaborate on a rock song that ends up becoming a popular single on Spotify, much to Frank’s sheer surprise. With Frank anxious to build on the momentum and grab a second shot at a genuine music career, Sam is faced with an uncertain future, especially as she’s thrust in to her first serious relationship with another woman.
Nick Offerman gives a heartfelt performance as a man who’s all but given up trying to be anything but an aspiring musician, and the closing of his record shop is indicative of giving up another aspect of his life that he held so closely to his heart. Offerman’s portrayal of Frank is compelling as his tendency for consuming music tends to get in the way of more realistic ideas that surround his life. To Frank, the second grasp at becoming a hit musician is something of a way for him not only to get a second chance at a new life, but perhaps hold on to his daughter for just a bit longer. The death of his wife managed to tear a rift between the pair, whether they realize it or not. Frank’s efforts to bring his daughter to him through the love of music are most times touching, sad, and pretty frustrating.
Creating their music allows them to stay in a confined space facing issues they have avoided for years, all the while the music itself unravels as a form of therapy they’ve sorely needed. Both characters are at sad cross roads, as must close his record shop in a world where online shopping has become the norm, and face that he might never get his big break. Kiersey Clemons plays beautifully off of Offerman, offering a performance that’s heartbreaking, especially in her visible confusion about what paths to pursue in a life that’s only just beginning. As she prepares to leave for medical school, she also finds a new vigor in the shocking popularity of her music. Not to mention the blossoming love with a new girlfriend who successfully brings her out of her shell.
Sam can feel like she’s pushing Frank away throughout the narrative, but it’s only because among the duo she’s the only pragmatist for better or for worse. Brett Haley’s direction is simple but effective, with a ton of quiet, subtle moments where we get to know Frank and Sam through their sheer love of music. The way they cobble together small beats and lyrics to form a passionate song allows for one of the best sequences in the entire film. This all culminates in to an absolutely fantastic climax where father and daughter have one last hurrah, allowing Sam a glimpse at a potential future, and Frank a look at what could have been. Offerman and Clemons are stellar in respective turns, and “Hearts Beat Loud” is a wonderful look at the complex, fragile father-daughter relationship, and the binding thread that is music.