SXSW Review: 'Hearts Beat Loud'

Nick Offerman's loveable family drama finds its rhythm.  

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- Posted on Mar 20, 2018

Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons in "Hearts Beat Loud"

Before Brett Haley’s Hearts Beat Loud debuted at SXSW last week, the director took to the stage to explain his motivations for making the film – a drama that follows a father’s final summer with his teenage daughter before she heads off to college.

Hayley, quite sincerely, admitted he just wanted to make a film that made people feel good, one that they were happier for seeing. He’s accomplished that and more with this latest project.

Parks and Recreation star Nick Offerman leads a talented ensemble that includes heavyweights like Ted Danson, Blythe Danner, and Toni Collette and features a star-turning performance by relative newcomer Kiersey Clemons (you might recognize her from Dope and her stint on Angie Tribeca but you’ll definitely know her after this film). The movie chronicles the final summer of a smart and studious young woman named Sam (Clemons) who lives in New York (Brooklyn, Red Hook to be exact) with her dad Frank (Offerman) a single father who owns a failing record store.

Sam is ambitious and committed to her dream of becoming a doctor, taking summer classes to prep for her first year at college while Frank, a goofy, amiable kind of guy, tries to convince her to join his band. Films that flip familial roles don’t always work – watching an aimless dad try to get his motivated daughter to “loosen up” and live a little can often grate on the nerves. It certainly rubs Sam the wrong way, who, despite having some serious singing chops and musical talent, just doesn’t share her father’s dream. She does share his love for songwriting though and it’s there that the film pushes past any tired tropes and makes Frank a redeemable father.

Sure, Frank’s long-standing record store is about to close, he’s miles deep in credit card debt, and he likes to interrupt Sam’s study sessions to “jam out” with her, but when the two actually connect through song his motivations for persuading Sam to shirk her studies and fiddle with a piano or create beats with a newly-bought synthesizer become clear. It’s the last-ditch effort to bond with his now very-grown-up daughter, one who can’t seem to get away from him fast enough. It’s also a way to feel closer to his wife who died when Sam was young after a tragic biking accident.

And in the lyrics of the songs themselves – all original and written for the film by Keegan DeWitt – we get to know a bit about Sam, her fears, her first experience with love, and how the loss of her mother has left her feeling the need to parent her father. Frank learns these things too by hearing her sing and he shares his own struggles with heartache. The two eventually end the summer with a few tunes that make it on Spotify playlists in local coffee shops and, more importantly, a renewed love and respect for each other.

Hayley directs the film with a sensitivity that feels refreshing. After the film showed at SXSW, he and Offerman shared their creative process with Hayley admitting he changed a lot of the script after getting input from Clemmons on the direction of her character, a young woman of color experiencing love with someone of the same gender for the first time. And the way the relationship between Frank and Sam evolves over the course of the film feels organic and meaningful, not purposefully sentimental. You may cry, but it never feels like Hayley’s set out to make you cry – a subtle choice but one that matters.

Ultimately you can’t help but walk away from the film feeling exactly as Hayley wants you to, happy and maybe even grateful for the special relationships in your own life.

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