A refreshing take on the coming-of-age story, Brett Haley’s Hearts Beat Loud follows the lives of Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman), a middle-aged rock musician preparing to close his record store in Red Hook, Brooklyn, after 17 years, and his daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), who’s about to move to California to begin college. Music is a shared passion of theirs and the glue that holds their relationship together. In fact, music is so central to Hearts Beat Loud that it’s connected to everything, from the characters’ emotions to important events taking place in the story. The film opens and closes with it, signifying the end of one chapter in the Fishers’ lives and the beginning of a new one. Haley, who cowrote the film with Marc Basch, considers not only how we grow and change but what we take with us when we leave home.
Haley is particularly skilled at using diegetic music, or music whose source is visible onscreen. In the opening scene Frank sits behind the counter at his store, smoking a cigarette and listening to a record on his headphones while a single customer browses through the bins. A shot from Frank’s perspective shows the customer suddenly waving as he tries to get Frank’s attention, then the background music fades as Frank removes his headphones; the song that seemed to be playing in the background turns out to be the one Frank was listening to. This point-of-view trick brings the viewer into the scene to identify with Frank. Another scene begins with a YouTube video of a singer performing onstage, then cuts to a wider shot that reveals Sam’s computer screen, with the Web page open and the video frame at the left. With Sam, we watch the singer, absorbing the emotion in her voice, which inspires Sam to pen a love song for her new girlfriend, Rose (Sasha Lane).
One of the film’s most significant scenes shows Rose teaching Sam how to ride a bicycle, which is fraught with emotion because Sam’s mother died years earlier in a cycling accident. The mood music playing in the background is actually coming from Frank as he strums his guitar in a different scene happening simultaneously. Here the diegetic sound transforms into nondiegetic sound as both characters undergo a sort of release, Sam in letting go of the past and Frank in venting all his frustrations (with Sam, who brushes off his silly idea that she postpone college and collaborate with him on a band; with his old friend Leslie, played by Toni Colette, who harbors romantic feelings toward him; and with himself for never having made it as a musician).
Hearts Beat Loud is anything but sad; the characters move on as one hopes they will. Frank not only accepts but actively supports Sam’s dream of becoming a doctor; he finds a new lover and companion in Leslie and continues to enjoy music even without his store. Sam heads off to UCLA and continues to share music and lyrics with her dad. Moving on from her father, she starts a life of her own, and Frank not only accepts this but comes to embrace it. v