There can be a lot of nuance to rating a film with a star rating, but somehow I feel it’s pertinent to mention that Brett Haley’s Hearts Beat Loud is three stars of ambivalence. It does nothing actively bad. Nick Offerman is charming as its lead, Kiersey Clemons (Dope) has a pleasant screen presence, and Toni Collette and Ted Danson have nice supporting roles. But while it gets the basics down of what one expects from a professionally crafted film, it never does much to really get in a lather over. It feels like the type of wholesome indie movie that was being cranked out in the mid-aughts, slightly quirky and very proud of its sensibilities, both artistically and emotionally.
It feels out of place and out of a time that’s passed. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. I’m not someone who necessarily believes that art should be hardened and miserable as a means of properly reflecting the shaky times we currently live in. But I also am a big proponent of movies (specifically) being some combination of fun, entertaining and escapist. I’m also traditionally a big sucker for sentimentality when it comes to movies, but I’m not schmaltzy enough myself to believe that a film doesn’t need to work for that (or any) emotional response. And Hearts Beat Loud is never quite engaging enough on a personal level for me to be truly be grabbed by anything it’s wanting to say.
I suspect I’ll be in the minority on this, however, since the movie does what it does with a sense of being a low-key crowd pleaser. The story revolves around Frank (Offerman) and his daughter Sam (Clemons). Frank, a widower and slight grump, is closing up his 17-year-old record store in Red Hook and preparing for Sam’s departure to UCLA. Faced with the prospect of being alone, he tries to reconnect with his daughter through their one-time shared love: music. This leads to them to an impromptu recording session in the kitchen that Frank eventually puts up on Spotify (which the film gratingly feels like an overlong ad for), which then ends up getting Frank motivated to record more songs.
All of this is a fine foundation to build on top of, being a mix of Frank coming to grips with his family life running its course and Sam coming of age, not only as a young adult, but sexually, too. But the movie does little to really make any of this truly engaging. A lot of this I put at the feet of director Haley (The Hero), mainly because there’s no energy behind anything the movie wants to do. There’s no style to the film, something especially disappointing for a film centered on musical performances, while the songs themselves are pretty bland and forgettable. There’s just nothing to get excited about here, as pleasant and watchable as the movie may be. Rated PG-13 for some drug references and brief language. Opens Friday, June 29 at Fine Arts Theatre.