Hearts Beat LoudReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 06/14/18 14:27:10
Every summer, there is at least one instance—and usually more—where a film that was praised to the skies after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival finally opens in a properly oxygenated climate and those who weren’t caught up in the need to anoint the next big thing are left befuddled and wondering what all the fuss could have possibly been about in the first place. (To cite just one of many examples, consider last year’s “Patti Cakes”—better yet, don’t.) For this season, that film is “Hearts Beat Loud,” a cloying and ham-handed attempt to replicate the magic of “Once” (a Sundance favorite that actually did live up to the hype) with increasingly diminishing and tone-deaf results.The film centers on Frank (Nick Offerman), the proprietor or a failing Brooklyn record store (one that seems to deal entirely in artfully posed pristine copies of the most iconic albums ever made) who has been raising his brilliant daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), alone since his wife died in a bicycling accident ten years earlier. Faced with twin crises of the soul—the shop is about to go under and Sam is about to leave for med school at UCLA—he responds by insisting that she regularly tear herself away from her studies to jam with him. (Oh yeah, he once had dreams of musical stardom as well.) One night, she stumbles upon a nifty riff on key keyboards, happens to have some lyrics that fit it perfectly and by morning, the two have a fully finished song called “Hearts Beat Loud.” The next morning, without telling Sam, Frank decides to upload the tune to Spotify and when it garners a bit of immediate attention, it begins to reignite his long-dormant dreams of musical stardom. For Sam, this is nothing more than pure delusional fantasy—she is going to be a heart specialist—but she nevertheless continues to work on new music with her dad and finds that her plans are becoming a little more complicated as a result.
With the main characters being father and daughter and with this not being “Game of Thrones,” additional players have to be brought in for the inevitable romantic subplots. For Sam, it is Rose (Sasha Lane), a local artist who helps to expose her to a world outside of textbooks and inspires just enough doubt and anxiety—what will happen when it is time for her to leave for California?—to fuel a number of additional songs at just the right time. For Frank, it is Leslie (Toni Colette), his longtime landlord who he begins to develop an attraction towards. That seems to be going along swimmingly until he discovers that there is another man in her life, a move that sends him into a tailspin of petulant despair that can presumably be milked for a song or two. Other characters on display include Frank’s mom (Blythe Danner), who once had musical dreams of her own and who now divides her time between light shoplifting and lighter words of wisdom, and his bartender friend (Ted Danson), who basically exists just so that he can disappear whenever the storyline requires his absence to move things along.
For all of its indie hipster trappings, if “Hearts Beat Loud” actually were music, it would be any Eagles album save for “The Long Run”—every plot note can be seen coming a mile away, the symbolism is achingly obvious (never more so than when Rose teaches Sam at long last how to ride a bike and thereby helps her come to terms with her mother’s early death),and you spend the entire time waiting for the one vaguely interesting character, the one played by Kiersey “Henley” Clemons, to finally break away from the others and do her own thing. It is obviously meant to be a delicate story of a father and daughter dealing with their personal conflicts by transforming it into art. Unfortunately, it mostly makes a botch of that by a.) giving most of the screen time and narrative importance to Frank, b.) making Frank a bit of a jerk throughout and c.) never really calling Frank on his occasionally selfish and obnoxious behavior. (Even Sam’s anger over Frank uploading her song online without even so much as asking is just kind of glossed over as if her feelings simply don’t matter.) As for the songs, they are supposed to represent the deep and personal feelings of both Sam and Frank but in practice, the tunes by Keegan Dewitt are the kind of vague, amorphous ditties that seem to have been written specifically to serve as the background for montage sequences for practically any movie imaginable.
The film was directed and co-written by Brett Haley, whose previous films “I’ll See You In My Dreams” and “The Hero” also leaned towards claptrap but were at least rescued somewhat by magnificent central performances, respectively, from Blythe Danner and Sam Elliott. This film does have a number of good actors in the cast but not even they can really do much of anything with the material they are working with. As much as I have liked Nick Offerman in various things over the years, the notion of him playing a laid-back Brooklyn hipster is a dubious prospect at best and he never quite manages to figure out a way into the character to make him work. Toni Collette is pretty much wasted in a nothing part as his would-be flame—this would be bad enough under normal circumstances but it is actively embarrassing after having just seen her tear things up with her knockout performance in “Hereditary.” Similarly, Sasha Lane, who made an undeniably striking debut a couple of years ago as the lead in “American Honey,” is a presence to be reckoned with but ends up with precious little to do as Sam’s girlfriend other than to smile adoringly at her and get her on a bike. The best performance is the one from Clemons, who also doesn’t have much to do but has such a presence about her that she takes the collection of cliches that is her role and comes very close to transforming her into a fully convincing character—it isn’t enough to save the movie, of course, but it does help make it a little easier to swallow at times.Pretty much the cinematic equivalent of what Taylor Swift was talking about when she sang about an ex listening to “some indie record that’s much cooler than mine,” “Hearts Beat Loud” is smug nonsense that is far more grating than edifying and which hard sells its simple-minded sentiments in as hollow and forced of a manner equal to that of any big studio behemoth. Yes, I am fully aware that it has been getting glowing reviews from all quarters and even I know a bunch of people who found it to be a delight. If you have any interest in seeing this film and trust those did enjoy, feel free to follow their lead because there is always the possibility that you will get more out of it than I did. Beyond that, all I am going to say is that if you want to see a quirky underdog of a movie dealing with people unexpectedly coming together to make music, familial bonds and the like, try giving the criminally underrated and enormously crowd-pleasing “Sing Street” instead—it hits all of the various comedic and dramatic beats dead on and the songs are groovy as can be as well.
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