Bittersweet is such a tricky thing to master in a movie that you cherish it when you find it, even if the movie delivering it is a bit on-the-nose, corny even.
But all those traits have become a niche for Brett Haley, director of the last chance romance “I’ll See You in My Dreams” and the wistful old Western star romance “The Hero.”
“Hearts Beat Loud” is a charming, gently-unsurprising love story — several love stories — tucked into the sentimental end of a New York record store and never-say-die dreams of its lonely, failing owner.
Nick Offerman is Frank, who’s run out of gas and out of cash running Red Hook Records. He can’t compete with Amazon and he knows it, so no more effort at being the charming old coot with the encyclopedic knowledge of pop music. He tells his landlady (the warm side of Toni Collette) that “It’s time…seventeen years was a good run.”
He’s a single dad whose beautiful smart cookie of a daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons of “Dope,” “Flatliners” and TV’s “Transparent”) is pre-med, and heading to UCLA in the fall. His mom (Blythe Danner, co-writer/director Haley’s good luck charm) is getting forgetful and shoplifting. Clumsily. She always gets caught.
And his bar owner pal (Ted Danson, quite funny) is full of sage advice…for a pothead.
Frank’s one escape? The nightly “jam sesh” with the kid. Sam is focused on getting that knowledge-edge for UCLA and doesn’t want to, but when she relents, they make beautiful, soulful twangy synth-pop together.
Dad records what they work out, on a whim uploads her song “Hearts Beat Loud” to Spotify, and the Rest is History –in an even more predictable movie.
Maybe things will turn around now. Maybe he gets one last shot at his dream (he recorded a record in his youth). Maybe this will give him the confidence to court that landlady. Maybe med school can wait?
“I don’t want to be in a band,” the kid — the GROWNUP in the relationship — scolds. “And even if I did, it wouldn’t be in one with my Dad!”
But as Sam envelopes herself in that tender, first love — with Rose (Sasha Lane) — it all gets much more complicated, bittersweet as promised.
Haley doesn’t do enough to service every character, but the teen romance is warm and fuzzy and everything you’d hope for in a movie. The father-daughter love plays out in the “jam sesh” and on-stage (Offerman can really play, Clemons can really sing).
A random moment I adored, showing the way an artist first hears his or her song “on the radio” has changed. It’s not as special as it was for generations (Spotify, in that one coffee shop that plays “Indie Mix”), but there’s a little “That Thing You Do” magic in Frank’s delight. Offerman kills it.
And the songs by Keegan DeWitt have enough going for them that you could totally buy into them catching on with the right corner of the insanely fragmented music audience of today.
“Hearts Beat Loud” is, as I said, on-the-nose, as in not particularly ambitious or challenging for those involved. Haley’s movies have an old-fashioned comfort food quality, and this sits happily on the menu with his earlier works.
But the unsurprising surprises have their own rewards and the movie and its music could touch you if you, like the film, are in a bittersweet mood.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some drug references and brief language
Cast: Kiersey Clemons, Nick Offerman, Toni Collette, Blythe Danner, Ted Danson
Running time: 1:36