By Elias Savada.
One way or another, I always seem to get a plastic high when watching a film with an old fashioned record store. High Fidelity (2000), Empire Records (1995), Ghost World (2001), and even Last Shop Standing, Pip Piper 2012’s documentary about the rise and fall of about two dozen independent mom-and-pop outlets in the U.K., all gave me a tickle. Maybe it’s because my dad was an avid collector. 200,000 or so 78’s, or about 60 tons of acetate. He pretty much ran Records Revisited himself (mom helped with some of the bookkeeping) as a private library set-up on the second (then third) floor of an office building across from the Empire State Building. It wasn’t the earthy Brooklyn shop seen in Hearts Beat Loud, Sundance Film Festival favorite Brett Haley’s latest feature. It’s a music-driven work which co-stars Blythe Danner, the luminous songstress that drove the director’s I’ll See You in My Dreams (2015). Instead of Sam Elliott (star of Haley’s 2017 piece The Hero), you’ll get Nick Offerman, Elliott’s co-star.
Haley’s third feature co-written with Marc Basch (fun fact: they prefer collaborating via email or chat) is just as human as the others, and the film revolves around a middle-age father, a college-age daughter, and an absent wife-mother, just as in Haley’s first feature, The New Year (2010), made for $5,000 and co-written with Elizabeth Kennedy. The literary creative aspects of the family of that first film has been replaced with music creatives in the new one. Except, Hearts Beats Loud plays a little more melodic, like Once, John Carney’s love letter to the organic musical. The original songs and music by Keegan DeWitt, who has worked on all of Haley’s features, should sell a lot of soundtrack recordings.
Red Hook Records, the Brooklyn store that is shutting its doors after 17 years by its just-shy-of-60 owner Frank Fisher (played by the 47-year-old Offerman). He’s got a lot on his mind including a mother (Danner) who absentmindedly shoplifts and a bright-eyed, overly studious, 20-something daughter, Samantha (Kiersey Clemons), about to head off to UCLA to study pre-med. He’s also trying to remember one of the more enlightening moments in his life: a budding singing/songwriting career he once thought possible.
“Jam Sess” time is an occasional break the single dad has created to lift family spirits and carry his daughter away from her books and homework in favor of chillin’ and relaxin’. He mixes up playing electric guitar, bass, and drums, while Sam prefers a keyboard piped through an Apple MacBook. They do, quite spontaneously, make music. Quite good music, in fact. Clemons has extremely strong vocals that convey a sweet urgency, the melodies are driving, even infectious, and the duo have a terrific energy once they start to gel. Inspiration follows.
Mixing it in their apartment (next to a vintage jukebox), I had only one question. Why is she intent on becoming a medical professional, especially since Frank has been pushing her in a musical direction for a half-dozen years. When she undeniably brushes him off, “We’re not a band!” he likes that as the cooler name for their twosome, better than the moniker “Sandwich und Frank,” he had dreamed up years earlier. Frank’s a charming, funny, witty fellow—a perfect member for the Nick Offerman nice guy ensemble. However delusional Sam thinks her dad’s dreams are, all she really wants is for him to grow up.
Anyway, you know what happens next in these sorts of uplifting, homegrown features. The song goes viral om the Internet. Frank’s to do list bursts with grandly ambitious topics (“Record more hit singles,” “Play a real gig!’) that extends into ludicrous bullet points including Beacon?! (i.e., the famous Broadway venue) and the well-known Lower East Side music venue Mercury Lounge, with a down-to-earth “LOL-Someday” annotation.
No, this isn’t a “If you build it, they will come,” type of film. There’s no baseball in it. Yet, there is something electric happening that Haley has captured that is just as crowd pleasing, even if cars are not winding down the road at the end of the film. The medley of songs that populate a lot of the final minutes of the film certainly will have you hopping and smiling. Maybe the “group” is only a bittersweet one night wonder. Maybe not. “One hell of a gig,” Frank tells his daughter in the quiet moments contemplating their futures.
Other hangers-on in the cast include Leslie (Toni Collette), Frank’s on-tune, karaoke-loving, and supportive landlady; actor-turned-hippie Dave (Ted Danson), the bar keep (Holy Cheers!) at local hangout Sunny’s Bar; and Rose (Sasha Lane), Sam’s artist girlfriend. Jeff Tweedy (who’s Summer Noon is on the soundtrack) has a small cameo, too. There are some other Easter Eggs, if you’re a music fan.
Character-driven journeys are what interest the director. With Hearts Beat Loud he also shows how diversity can be woven into a storyline in a matter-of-fact, uplifting manner. Haley’s look at the lighter, and lightly darker, side of family life between a father and his daughter is a super(b) counterpoint to this summer’s blockbusters.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the new documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (the revised edition will be published in 2018 by Centipede Press).