Written By: Daniel Kinsley
These days, the quirky indie film that becomes a word-of-mouth success is a dime a dozen. After Garden State (2004) premiered at Sundance once upon a time, the indie scene seemed to burst open, ushering in a new era of “Woody Allen Lite” filmmakers for the aughts. Plenty of great films came from this explosion (500 Days of Summer ) while many did not (Juno  don’t @ me). All of this is a bit of winding preamble to say that picking out the latest Sundance sensation is an awful lot like what Forrest’s mama said: you never know what you are going to get.
On the surface, there is not much to separate this film from the pack. It is perhaps charitable to say that the film has a plot; Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) is an ailing record-shop owner in Red Hook, Brooklyn, defined primarily by his status as a widower and a guy who would have much rather played music than sold it. Frank’s daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons) has plans to attend UCLA to study medicine. One night, Frank convinces Sam to quit studying and play a jam session, during which she reveals a song that she wrote and composed called “Hearts Beat Loud”. Frank is (rightfully) taken by how beautiful it is, and the two spend the night mixing and recording. Frank uploads the song onto Spotify, where it goes viral, despite Sam’s insistence that “We are not a band.”
In a lot of other films, this scenario would lead to plenty of hijinks about their newfound success, and conflict about Sam’s future, but writers Haley and Marc Basch are after something much smaller, and looser, and more intimate. While Frank believes Sam has a gift, there is never any conflict about whether the band will be anything more than a moment. A brief flash of excitement and togetherness for a father and daughter who have drifted further apart after losing the matriarch of the family.
There is a sense of melancholy that hangs over Frank and Sam, but the slice-of-life nature of the film itself is punctuated by moments of pure, melody-driven joy. The songs composed by the duo, “Hearts Beat Loud”, “Blink (One Million Miles)”, and “Everything Must Go” are exuberant, beautiful tunes that moved this writer tremendously. During an impromptu gig put on during the final day of Frank’s record shop, the small set of three songs is a highlight of the film. The chemistry between Offerman and Clemons is wonderful, and both are gifted performers who ground and charm their way through what might have been a more eye-rolling set of circumstances in lesser hands. Offerman is a gift that we do not appreciate enough outside of his performance as Ron Swanson; subtle and sensitive, Offerman is a throwback, able to convey so much with a glance or a tip of his head. Clemons, likewise, is a star in the making as far as this writer is concerned, and this film simply doubles down on why you ought to learn her name now. Director Brett Haley is perhaps the unsung hero of the piece; it is not a propulsive film, but Haley is smart enough to know when to linger on a moment, or how to maintain the intimacy of the moment while turning up the energy during the musical scenes.
Toni Collette and Ted Danson show up in supporting roles, and they are both as reliably fun to watch as ever. Danson, in particular, is bizarre and funny as Frank’s friend and bartender, Dave. The real find, however, is Sasha Lane (who made her screen debut in 2016) as Sam’s girlfriend, Rose. Sam and Rose have a wonderfully understated relationship that is nonetheless bursting with chemistry, and their short-lived summer romance is aching and lovely.
For those on the watch for your next word-of-mouth indie flick, look no further than Hearts Beat Loud. While it may not reinvent the wheel, it gets by on the strength and chemistry of its casting and the sheer joy you will feel when listening to Kiersey Clemons belt out those notes. This writer will be happy to continue to wade through the indie Sundance output, as long as there are still gems like this one being made.