Father's Day weekend offers us two movies about men with Brooklyn-based businesses trying to pass a personal legacy on to their children, and of the two, we find a gentleness of spirit in Hearts Beat Loud that we do not find in John Travolta mob picture Gotti.
Hearts stars character actor Nick Offerman as Frank, widower and owner of a Red Hook record store who's about to lose only child Samantha (Dope's Kiersey Clemons), to UCLA and a premed program.
His mother (Blythe Danner) is in the early stages of dementia, and he's about to lose his failing store — his kindly landlord and possible girlfriend (Toni Collette) can no longer keep giving him a break on his rent.
The one bright spot for frustrated musician Frank is his father-daughter jam sessions with Samantha – they don't quarrel or even talk much. They work on riffs, play around with her lyrics, and when it all comes together, they write a song (actually the work of composer Keegan DeWitt) together.
This scene of father and daughter bonding and creating works well. Clemons is lovely, appealing, and a wonderful singer, and the songs are just good enough that we accept the unlikely turn in plot – dad posts the song on Spotify, and the next thing you know, it's on the streaming service's curated indie list, and playing in Red Hook coffee shops.
This instills in dad dreams of a revived career in music – one that will give him the success that eluded him in his youth, solve all of his financial problems, and perhaps keep his beloved daughter close. Success for Samantha would also mean closing a karmic loop initiated when his bandmate, soulmate, and wife was killed in her prime.
Hearts Beat Loud (despite is gooey title) has a bittersweet tone that tells us that Frank's dreams are mostly wishful thinking. In that way, Hearts is of a piece with other movies by writer-director Brett Haley, wherein the art has the power to ameliorate rather than transform.
Haley also likes to build movies around overlooked or underused performers. He cast Danner as a widow rebuilding her life in I'll See You In My Dreams, Sam Elliott as a version of himself in Hero – movies that also featured Haley's laid-back blend of humor and melancholy.
It's a tone that suits Offerman, a laconic performer with a knack for low-key wit. Here he gets to expand his emotional range, show more vulnerability – Frank has succeeded in his one-man mission to create a wonderful young woman, and now feels about as useful and necessary as a vinyl record.
The movie, like Frank, meanders a bit. It follows him around his neighborhood, watching him have a beer or two at the saloon owned by his best friend (Ted Danson). The narrative also peels off to look in on Samantha as she wrestles with the pangs of first love (with Sasha Lane), inspiring the feelings that inform her songs.
When she works up the nerve to sing them, in public, father at her side, it's a moment of well-earned emotion.