There is something to be said for wearing your heart on your sleeve like a badge of pride. For all its bona fides, “Hearts Beat Loud” wears no disaffected veneer but leans into aching sincerity to tell a wistful story of father-daughter bonding over music in the wake of tremendous loss.
It also doesn’t break any new narrative ground. You’ve heard this song before and can predict all the emotional high notes before they hit, but sometimes that’s all you need from a summer bop.
Frank (Nick Offerman) might not seem the sappy type on the surface. He’s a beer-swilling, flannel-wearing musician with a fading triceps tattoo, chain-smoking and sassing customers in his struggling Brooklyn record store. You can forgive him a touch of acerbity: His musical ambitions were cut short when his band mate — and wife — was killed in an accident, leaving him a widowed single father. Now he sells other people’s music instead of making his own, and even then just barely.
The one thing that still gets his big broken heart racing is his daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons). Theirs is a life far from Frank’s dreams of musical stardom but it’s a good one, and it’s falling apart. Frank’s store is failing, his landlord (Toni Collette) is raising the rent, his mother (Blythe Danner) is showing signs of dementia and Sam is preparing to leave for college — on the opposite coast.
He’s flailing a bit at her impending departure, which means he’s even more enthusiastic during their mandatory father-daughter evening jam sessions. Sam humors him, reluctantly plinking out a tune on her keyboard. But she’s also falling in love with an artist named Rose (Sasha Lane), and in that enthrallment a song starts to take shape. The result is something more than their usual idle jamming, something made special by the force of Sam’s feelings.
Without telling Sam, Frank posts the song on Spotify, and it starts to gain traction as Sam’s connection with Rose deepens. Suddenly, the universe giving Sam all these reasons to stay when her gut says to go. Is Frank pushing her music because he believes in her talent, or is he manipulating her to fulfill his own stalled dreams?
The film’s bigness of heart is refreshing, as is its effortless inclusivity. That Sam is biracial and queer is mere fact. Frank is more in awe that his daughter is deep enough in love to write a song about it than he is about the gender of her romantic partner. It’s so little the point of the story it wouldn’t merit comment here, except that that kind of casual representation on screen is still so rare and necessary.
Other aspects of the story come with too much ease. Frank and Sam’s song becomes a minor smash so quickly it’s ludicrous, in service of an aggressive product placement for Spotify. Impromptu gigs by undiscovered bands in failing record stores rarely meet with a happy end, but here it’s an emotional high point. This is reality lacquered to so high a sheen nothing sticks.
What sells it is spirit. Offerman has a gift for simultaneously being both ornery and a sap (the Ron Swanson effect, if you will), and that sweet center charms even when the story falters. And of course, none of it would work if the songs weren’t good, and they are. Clemons has a serious set of pipes, and when she sings you fall under the film’s spell, even if it was dubiously cast.
In that way, “Hearts Beat Loud” is kind of a cinematic equivalent of a night at karaoke with your closest friends. It doesn’t matter if the notes are off so long as you sing at the top of your lungs, and with all your heart.
Gunpowder & Sky presents a film directed by Brett Haley and written by Haley and Marc Basch. Rated PG-13 (for some drug references and brief language). Running time: 97 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.