Quirky American coming of age dramas aren’t exactly hard to come by – every other film that has emerged from the Sundance film festival feels like it could easily fall into this category, with very few managing to stand the test of time. Hearts Beat Loud undeniably fits into the pantheon of stereotypical “Sundance movies”, but offers something far more emotionally substantial than your run of the mill coming of age tale.
Beneath the feel good charms, there’s an underlying melancholy that makes this highly contemporary portrayal of a father/daughter relationship more emotionally affecting than you’d otherwise expect. The story itself may stretch credulity, but the arcs of these characters, and the development of their relationship, feels nothing less than believable; director Brett Haley follows a pivotal few weeks in their lives with an earnestness that proves to be as infectious as any of the songs the characters write together.
Nick Offerman stars as Frank Fisher, owner of Red Hook Records, a failing record store in an overlooked corner of New York. His daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is in the final stages of preparing to leave for college, leaving Frank with unspoken anxiety – he claims to be worried she’s spending too much time preparing for her course and ignoring her final summer before adult responsibilities kick in, when really he’s just desperate for an excuse for the pair to hang out together.
After persuading his daughter to join him for a jam session, Sam reveals a song she’s been working on independently – Frank secretly records it, and uploads it to Spotify, only for it to gain traction in indie music circles unbeknownst to Sam’s knowledge. This dramatically changes the pair’s relationship; there are only a few weeks left before Sam leaves, and suddenly she’s finding herself recording music with her dad, with the promise of a career in music unexpectedly arriving out of the blue. Then there’s Sam’s relationship with Rose (Sasha Lane), which has inspired her to write countless love songs, even as the pair both know the relationship can’t last any longer than the few weeks she has left in the city.
The idea that a father and daughter could magically create a minor hit single by accident, gaining local attention in the space of days, is ever so slightly far fetched, even in the days where songs can go viral overnight. However, the performances from Offerman and Clemons help overshadow any doubts this may cause – the entire story is anchored by the development of their relationship, showing how music has helped mend the distance between the pair, and soothe the wounds of the past that have come back out in the open. The power of Brett Haley’s film is that, working with co-screenwriter Marc Basch, he’s managed to create something earnestly moving out of the overly sentimental cliche that music can change your life. It isn’t until after watching that it becomes apparent how insufferably cheesy the film could have been in the hands of a less capable filmmaker.
And if the film IS cliched, then it at least updates the cliches for the modern world. Here, the screenplay upends initial expectations that Sam’s sexuality and hidden love are secrets from her father hidden within her lyrics; Frank is already aware of his daughter’s sexuality and is accepting without hesitation, with the film never making it form a plot point. The blossoming relationship between Sam and her girlfriend could easily have been written as a relationship between a boy and a girl – that’s how rare it is to see a mainstream American film with such a non judgemental, carefree attitude to its portrayal of the characters’ sexuality. The thing that adds dramatic tension to this relationship isn’t the fact its two young women. It’s the fact that it’s two seemingly inseparable people falling in love for the first time, both knowing that it can’t last longer than a few weeks.
Hearts Beat Loud may have its joyously crowd pleasing moments, but it has a far stronger emotional resonance beyond this. With one of the more moving father/daughter relationships in recent memory at the film’s core, the final product proves to be subtly moving – charming you the whole way through, with the film accumulating into something far more powerful that only becomes truly apparent once the end credits roll. Like the characters within the film, you only realise how deep the connection has become until you are faced with the sign of it ending.