When there’s a filmmaker in the industry that has a niche, and nails it, it’s kinda hard for anyone else to come along and take a bite of the pie. For the last decade Irish filmmaker John Carney has been the unofficial king of the indie musical after the successes of ‘Once’ (2007), ‘Begin Again’ (2013) and ‘Sing Street’ (2016). Now Brett Haley (2017's ‘The Hero’) is moving in on Carney’s territory with ‘Hearts Beat Loud’. Fortunately for Carney, I don’t think he has anything to worry about.
Frank (Nick Offerman, TV’s ‘Parks & Recreation’) is an ageing and struggling record store owner whose teenage daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons, ‘Bad Neighbours 2’) is getting ready to move to the other side of the country for college. Despite Sam’s dedication to her studies, she does share her father’s love and talent for music. The pair spend their nights bonding through jam sessions and writing original songs. So when Frank uploads one such song to Spotify, it becomes an indie hit and gives Frank hope that the two of them will become music stars and live the life he’s always wanted, with his daughter by his side. Sam, however, has other ideas. With this newfound success that has awoken her passion and talent for songwriting as well as a budding new romance with Rose (Sasha Lane, ‘American Honey’) Sam’s priorities and everything she thought she wanted starts to waver.
This film has a lot of ideas and relationships in the air, but unfortunately none of them seem to fit with the others, resulting in an underdeveloped mess. Haley has brought back his ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams’ star Blythe Danner as Frank’s ailing mother, for reasons unknown. It may be to flesh out the already-thin film with her inclusion, bringing the finished product to a “whopping” 97 minutes. Yikes, there was definitely a struggle for content. Then there’s Toni Collette, fabulous Toni Collette; here she’s the love interest who’s not really a love interest and the landlord that’s more of a friend, and it’s all a bit convoluted and doesn’t hold much water. Urgh, what a mess. Now, for good measure let’s throw in Ted Danson as Frank’s free-spirited friend/bar owner. He spends the majority of his tragically limited screen time “drinking his profits” and not much else. As for our stars - Offerman is his usual quirky, charming self with that magnificent voice, while Clemons is beautiful with an equally pleasing set of pipes to help bolster the musical tent poles. However, their chemistry is more along the lines of acquaintances with admiration as opposed to father and daughter that have had nothing but each other for the last decade.
The songs are beautiful, albeit not quite the bangers or ear worms you’d hope for, and there’s just too few.
Now we can’t not talk about the music; this is, after all, a music based film. The songs written by film composer and occasional recording artist Keegan DeWitt are beautiful, albeit not quite the bangers or ear worms you’d hope for, and there’s just too few. We only ever really hear the title track ‘Hearts Beat Loud’ to completion and then a further two more in varying states of progress. This lack of musical girth also plays into the plot which leaves it all feeling baseless and incredulous.
This film is so frustrating! It has so much potential. All the elements are there - the cast, the music, the story - it just doesn’t know what to do with them. You can definitely see the film it’s trying to be, and if you’re a huge John Carney fan like myself, you know what it can be in the right hands. Brett Haley, despite this actually being his screenplay as well, were not the right hands here. As a whole, ‘Hearts Beat Loud’ does have beautiful heart and loveable characters, but not much else.