In its opening sequence, Hearts Beat Loud introduces the audience to the rhythms of its lead characters: Single father Frank (Offerman) sits glumly in front of a laptop in his Red Hook record shop listening to dad rock via YouTube, while daughter Sam (Clemons) sits in a pre-med class learning a rather poetic lesson about the blood-pumper: Hearts beat loud when they’re sick or in love. There’s a little bit of foreshadowing here, as Sam is soon to meet artist Rose (Lane, American Honey) and embark on a summer romance. When Frank isn’t bailing his mother (Danner) out of jail for shoplifting, he’s shipwrecked at a local bar run by pothead Dave (Danson). Meanwhile Frank informs landlady Leslie (Collette) that he isn’t going to renew his lease after 17 years.
These are pretty major life transitions, but you’d never guess by the rather languid pacing of the film, which is reflected in the sleepy eyes of its leads. There’s a rhythm to the dialogue that is unnaturally slow, as though no one is in a hurry to respond. Most shots get in close, mimicking the confines of NYC but maybe also the small-worldness of even a place like Brooklyn, which has the Austin feel of people bumping into each other all the time. All this provides for a character study, much like director Brett Haley and co-writer Marc Basch’s previous feature, The Hero, but the drama here is much lighter. The push/pull doesn’t pivot on death’s close hand; Frank just wants to have some jam sessions with his daughter before she goes off to college at UCLA. She reluctantly humors him in a role reversal as tender as anything you’d see in real life, and they record a few cuts as We’re Not a Band. (The electronic indie-pop songs are credited to Haley's longtime collaborator Keegan DeWitt, but the actors perform them – Clemons has some pipes.)
The intimacy has the effect of staving off the larger realities of gentrification, unrequited grief (Sam’s mother died in a bike accident), Grandma’s dementia, and crushing financial debt. And while there are some weak platitudes delivered via dialogue, the film takes a refreshing look at queer relationships. When Frank can tell Sam is distracted, he asks, “You got a girlfriend?” like it’s the most mundane thing in the world. The relationship between the two girls is never sensationalized, and toxic masculinity checks itself at the door, quite literally when Frank gets drunk and shows up at Leslie’s in a tentatively jealous maneuver. It all adds up for a tender and loving family portrait of growing up and letting go.
To read our interview with Nick Offerman, see "Hearts Beat Loud When Nick Offerman's Around," June 22.
Copyright © 2023 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.