PLOT A middle-aged record-store owner starts a band with his teenage daughter.
CAST Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Toni Collette
RATED PG-13 (mild language, adult themes)
BOTTOM LINE A sparkling gem with an indie-rock soul. Offerman turns in his best big-screen performance yet.
Nick Offerman plays Frank Fisher, a single parent and the owner of a Brooklyn record shop, in “Hearts Beat Loud,” a winning comedy-drama from fledgling director Brett Haley. Frank’s daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), is heading to college soon, but when their jam session demo tape becomes a minor hit, the parent is the one who starts acting like a teenager. From that simple premise, Haley and his co-writer, Marc Basch, weave an emotionally resonant story about indie rock, middle age, fear of change and the empty nest blues.
“Hearts Beat Loud” is a showcase for Offerman, switching from his blowhard persona on TV’s “Parks and Recreation” to play a lovably grumpy rocker-dad. With a bushy gray beard, an occasional cigarette and an ever-present plaid shirt, Frank is an instantly identifiable type. He grouses about life to local bar owner Dave (a quirky Ted Danson) and nurses a low-key crush on his landlady, Leslie (Toni Collette, enjoying a banner year along with her horror hit “Hereditary”).
Frank saves his best self for Sam, whose mother died many years ago. Whenever Sam gets snotty, Frank resorts to kindness; when she pushes him away, he perseveres. Their musical collaboration begins as a goof-around session, but when Sam reveals real writing talent and a soulful voice, Frank gets serious. He dubs them We’re Not a Band — after a snarky reply from his daughter — and submits their music to Spotify. (The film’s yearning title song comes from Keegan Dewitt.) Meanwhile, Sam has her own life to lead, one that may or may not include a new girlfriend, Rose (Sasha Lane, of "American Honey").
“Hearts Beat Loud” could be the unauthorized sequel to “High Fidelity” (2000), Stephen Frears’ demographic-defining comedy in which John Cusack also played a record-store owner unable to face his future. Flash forward a couple of decades, and Cusack’s late-20s Rob could easily be Offerman’s late-40s Frank — slightly wiser, and most definitely wearier.
Filmed on location in Brooklyn’s industrial-hip Red Hook, "Hearts Beat Loud" is filled with perfect details and sharp observations. At a local cafe, Frank shouts out loud when he hears his song on a playlist for the first time, but the reaction of the cashier — too young to remember the glory days of radio and spoiled by a universe of music at her fingertips — is a polite and unimpressed "Cool." Moments like that are what make "Hearts Beat Loud" feel like the real deal.