MPAA Rating: PG
USCCB Rating: None available
Reel Rating: 2 out of 5 reels
It must be said as a matter of honest disclosure that I reviewed Hearts Beat Loud in order to see Nick Offerman, one of my favorite actors, starring in a dramatic role. In this regard, I was not disappointed. But in every other way Hearts Beat Loud is a dud, sagging under the weight of its subject and genre despite fantastic acting. The film tries desperately to be original, switching the traditional roles of stern father and rebellious daughter; yet, in the end, both are underwhelming, cut from the same progressive cloth, without tension or conflict, all underscored by mediocre songs in a movie claiming to “beat loud”.
Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) was really “into the 80s”. He and his future wife Danielle were in an indie band, and when that didn’t pan out he started a record store (not a music store, but a store that sells only LPs and the occasional cassette). Danielle died tragically a few years ago in a bicycle accident, and Frank has been raising their daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) as a single working father. It is Sam’s last summer before going to study pre-med at UCLA on a huge scholarship. She likes music but would prefer to read about the cardiovascular system. One night, she agrees to take a break from her studies for an impromptu jam session with her dad. Unknown to her, he posts their improvised song “Hearts Beat Loud” to Spotify, and it goes viral. Soon, they are getting offers for more songs and even touring. Frank has the audacity to suggest she wait to go to college so they can become a band. “I don’t want to be in a band and even if I did,” she laments, “I’m not going to be in one with my dad.”
The central narrative twist of Hearts Beat Loud involves an inversion of familiar roles, which has been done many times before—and often more successfully (Family Ties comes to mind). Frank is hip; Sam is square. Frank likes music; Sam likes science. Frank lives in the past; Sam is looking to the future. Yet the film flounders because, apart from just a few lines, neither person challenges each other’s lifestyle or decisions. Sam might think her dad’s idea is bad, but she supports his music oppression and helps whenever she can. Frank may not understand Sam’s interests but supports her college aspirations and completely ignores her homosexual impulses. Both are “fine” with each other, but they act like roommates rather than as family.
And that is one of largest obstacles of Hearts Beat Loud. Conflict, in its progressive perspective, is the result of intolerance—which is simply intolerable. There is plenty of poor behavior, but no sinning and no real stakes. Frank is supposedly broke, but he buys expensive music equipment, eats coffee shop pastries, drinks constantly, and all while living in a nice apartment in New York City. Sam doesn’t work but finds time to admire post-modern art, write on her Apple laptop, and wear vintage clothes. Everyone gets everything they want without any effort or meaningful growth.
Ultimately, Hearts Beat Loud suffers from a common disease that afflicts so much art house cinema: indie slog. In an effort to go against big budget blockbusters, these filmmakers attempt to erase conflict through erasing morality. Without tension or development, scenes drag on and on. Characters talk about their favorite band, write lyrics, and sing songs that sound like every New Age-ish tune ever written. Frank even tells his daughter that “it doesn’t matter if the words don’t make sense; it’s the emotions that matter.” The genre, in short, is aggressively monotonous.
Watching the film, I was reminded of Kierkegaard’s famous prophecy:
Let others complain that the age is wicked; my complaint is that it is wretched; for it lacks passion. Men’s thoughts are thin and flimsy like lace, they are themselves pitiable like the lacemakers. The thoughts of their hearts are too paltry to be sinful. … This is the reason my soul always turns back to the Old Testament and to Shakespeare. I feel that those who speak there are at least human beings: they hate, they love, they murder their enemies, and curse their descendants throughout all generations. They sinned!
Then again, Nick Offerman was amazing, so there is that.