Hearts Beat Loud: New Musical Film Offers A Hug For The Heartstrings
While Sam Fischer (Kiersey Clemons) is poring over pre-med presentations and gearing up for her first year at UCLA, her father Frank (Nick Offerman) is stuck playing tug-of-war with music. His Brooklyn record shop is on its last legs, but his jam sessions with Sam ignite major potential. These endings and new beginnings are packaged beautifully, thoughtfully, in prolific Sundance-successful director Brett Haley's newest film, Hearts Beat Loud.
In Hearts Beat Loud, Haley captures love as a chameleon in all its many forms: the sweet pride between a father and daughter, the tender intricacies of falling hard when you're young, the tentative nature that accompanies love when it is new, when it's renewed, when it's creeping up, when it's been there all along. The power of Brett Haley and this film is that it carefully tackles each of these tones, letting them dance around each other as we watch stories (and lives) unravel, and then, not because we're lucky but because Haley is kind, rebuild.
When we first meet Sam, she's an enthusiastic participant in her summer classes, forging ahead with her plans to become a doctor. When we first meet Frank, he's manning the counter at Red Hook Records, invested in a YouTube video of Jeff Tweedy (I get it... just caught him at Clearwater River Festival on the Hudson. Guy's a genius, brooding and devastating, but a damn poet.) After our first look at this little family's separate lives, we get to see how they are bound to each other. Spoiler alert: it's by music. Over the next hour and a half, Sam and Frank write the soundtrack to their own lives, deliciously emotive but refreshingly amateur tunes about the people they love and the people who love them. As they say in the film, "Every song's a love song... technically."
While Sam and Frank are building their band -- aptly named We're Not A Band -- other real-world monotonies (all those things that happen worldwide to us all but feel so heavy when we're alone) are unfurling around them. We watch Frank grapple with hot-and-cold affection for his landlady Leslie (Toni Collette) while trying to let go of his record shop now that more major financial issues arise for him. Meanwhile, Sam falls for the artistic and supportive Rose (Sasha Lane) -- the treatment here of their young love, hardened by past tragedy but softened by the all-in intimacy learned and reciprocated together, is beautiful, a true homage to growing up, only made stronger by the no-frills, no-bullshit, much needed representation of queer women of color.
Hearts Beat Loud is important. It's gripping, and truthful, and we need its insights. Where it thrives, of course, is its soundtrack. Though every character is wildly talented in their quick banter and shared scenes, the most remarkable feat the movie accomplishes is what it tells without words. Much of the film acts like a sprawling, slow-rolling music video. Countless scenes find the leads solo, penning disjointed songs in tattered composition books and modestly tweaking arrangements that will go on to become small stunners courtesy of composer Keegan DeWitt. These moments when seemingly nothing is happening -- when no one speaks but we see hands hovering and eyes exchanged -- are so much more than they seem. Here, in the quiet spaces, Haley and DeWitt and co-writer Marc Basch unload mass quantities of heart-hugs. The emotion is palpable, buzzing with irrefutably moving warmth and meaning.
The original songs designed for the film mimic its sweetness: the title track, "Hearts Beat Loud," is a charming, addictive anthem, soaring with rapid-fire crescendos of indie-pop percussion led by Clemons' emotive vocals. In one achingly bittersweet scene, Offerman contributes his own vocals on "Shut Your Eyes," a poignant reflection masked as a pretty little acoustic tune (one we're pretty sure Jeff Tweedy himself might want to cover one day). Later, Sam's love song to Rose, "Blink (One Million Miles)" hosts a sparkling piano rhythm, percussive slaps, and saccharine sentiment as Clemons' sings, "You told me to be brave and I will remember that," an expertly written nod to a previous scene that found Sam and Rose sharing a moment neither will soon forget. The rest of the score keeps up with the sentimentality of the for-character originals... tender, aching pieces like "The Past" and dizzying, dazzling ones like Frank's "Everything Must Go" soundscape will dig their claws into you, offering endlessly wistful tracks that take the place of a narrator in this little film that tells with music what it can't with words.
Hearts Beat Loud, in its sweetness and sadness, is as honest a love film as it gets. There are moments of great grief that bog you down, relentless in the relatability we didn't ask for, but beyond these are moments of even greater love. With a fantastic cast and a gorgeous soundtrack, Hearts Beat Loud is less of a thoughtfully crafted film and more of a hug. We're hugging back.
Listen to the soundtrack below and head to the Hearts Beat Loud site to find out where you can watch the film.
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All images property of and courtesy of Hearts Beat Loud.