Frank and Sam make beautiful music together. No, that’s not a metaphor; it’s an accurate description that’s central to what makes “Hearts Beat Loud” such an engaging endeavor.
As co-written and directed by Brett Haley, this sweet-natured, warmly emotional film about an unforeseen father and daughter collaboration is a musical in everything but name.
As composed by Keegan DeWitt and performed in straight from the heart fashion by stars Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons, the film’s songs both propel the action and provide a key part of the reason for watching.
Director Haley and co-writer Marc Basch are best known for two films starring Sam Elliott, “The Hero” and “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” and like those, “Hearts Beat Loud” depends on its central performances for its effectiveness.
For though “Heart” features expert supporting players such as Ted Danson, Blythe Danner, Toni Collette and Sasha Lane, the interplay of stars Offerman and Clemons is the essential element.
Not only do Offerman, known for his “Parks & Recreation” Ron Swanson role, and Clemons (Sundance hit “Dope”) work effectively together, they also bring complementary strengths to the proceedings.
Offerman plays Frank Fisher, a cranky former musician who has run Red Hook Records in that trendy neighborhood of ultra-cool Brooklyn for 17 years without the benefit of an ideal retail personality.
Told to stop smoking a cigarette by a health conscious customer, Frank takes time out from watching a Jeff Tweedy video on his computer to riposte, “You buy something, I’ll put it out,” a response that does not lead to a sale.
Diving into this prickly hipster role with genuine gusto, Offerman’s ability to be completely convincing as a jerk is essential in keeping “Hearts Beat Loud” honest and not any more sentimental than it needs to be.
The only person who can consistently avoid Frank’s crusty demeanor is his daughter, Sam (Clemons), whom he has raised as a single parent since the death of her mother, who was also Frank’s partner in a band.
Sam, not surprisingly, has a mind of her own. Having just graduated from high school as the film begins, she is looking forward to an orderly summer taking a science course before heading out to UCLA as a pre-med freshman.
Orderly, however, is not something her father does well. He’s been trying, as Sam ruefully notes, to start a band with her “since I was 12,” and he finally maneuvers Sam into a jam session that has unexpected results after Frank impulsively submits a song that lands on Spotify’s “New Indie Mix.”
The extended sequence showing the process of constructing that song, not coincidentally also called “Hearts Beat Loud,” is one of the film’s most effective in emotional content and in convincingly showing a creative back and forth.
“It’s just a bunch of words,” Sam says dismissively of her contribution as the process starts, but when Frank replies “This is a mood piece. It just has to have feeling,” the collaboration begins in earnest.
Clemons is not only a strong enough performer to share the screen with Offerman, her knockout, classically bluesy voice is exceptional enough to make the song’s success completely convincing.
While writing a swell song with his daughter is a dream come true for Frank, for Sam, it presents a difficult dilemma about whether it is possible to balance her undeniable talent with a genuine desire for a medical career.
Complicating things for her is the beginnings of a chaste summer romance with Rose (“American Honey’s” Sasha Lane), a fetching young gallerista who loves the New York life.
Causing difficulties on Frank’s side are Leslie (Collette), his patient landlady who may or may not have an ulterior interest in her tenant, and Frank’s aging mother, Marianne (Danner, who starred in “I’ll See You In My Dreams”). And then there is Frank’s old pal Dave (Danson), a former actor who now owns a bar (hello “Cheers”).
Despite the skill of the performers involved, none of these characters has the heft of Frank and Sam, and “Hearts” also has to fight the tendency to be a bit on the nose, witness lines like “all dreams are unrealistic” and “when life hands you conundrums, you turn them into art.”
But, energized by Offerman and Clemons, the effectiveness of the music and the emotional freshness of “Hearts Beat Loud” are finally triumphant. Sometimes wearing your heart on your sleeve is the only way to go.
‘Hearts Beat Loud’
Rating: PG-13 for some drug references and brief language
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Playing: Arclight, Hollywood, Landmark, West Los Angeles