‘Hearts Beat Loud’ a believable charmer

A widowed father and his college-bound daughter deal sweetly and musically with turning points they’re experiencing in “Hearts Beat Loud,” a dramatically feathery but irresistibly likable dramedy from writer-director Brett Haley.

Haley’s movies are about appealing people forced to emerge from their comfort zones and, whatever their challenges, forge constructive new paths. Depth and edge aren’t his specialties, but he leaves audiences too charmed to complain.

A breaking-away story and a bit of a musical, “Hearts” — which opens Friday at the Embarcadero — transpires in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood, where Frank (Nick Offerman, from Haley’s “The Hero”), a middle-aged widower, is juggling a handful of difficulties.

His business –a vintage-record store — is failing, his mother (Blythe Danner, from Haley’s “I’ll See You in My Dreams”) is displaying some of the sadder aspects of aging, and the woman to whom he’s attracted is seeing another man.

Even tougher is the impending departure, for UCLA, of his daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons), whom he has raised alone since his wife died years ago. Still grieving and selfishly wanting to hold on to Sam, Frank, who used to play in a band, tries to persuade Sam, a talented musician like her late mother, to postpone college and write and perform songs with him.

A “jam sesh” yields some engaging tunes, and, when one lands on a Spotify playlist, Frank envisions glory.

The more mature Sam, who has med-school aspirations, deems him unrealistic.

That’s about all there is to the story, which ripples predictably but pleasantly along, dotted with minidramas featuring agreeable supporting characters. We wish its heart beat louder.

Subjects with substantial emotional potential — enduring grief, a beloved family member showing signs of dementia — don’t have such impact. Among stories about parent-daughter separation issues, the film pales next to Greta Gerwig’s astutely delightful “Lady Bird” or Claire Denis’ gracefully touching “35 Shots of Rum.”

But this is still a Brett Haley film, an impeccably cast human story with genuine sweetness and refreshing decency.

Father-daughter scenes — especially those in which Frank and Sam grow closer while collaborating on their pop-bluesy music — sparkle. (Songs are by Keegan DeWitt.)

Offerman, of “Parks & Recreation” fame, does wonders with the potentially tired role of a decent soul who acts like a jerk. Clemons is a terrific emerging talent. The two, whose characters even display some of the same facial gestures, are believable and enchanting.

The supporting cast includes worthy turns by, in addition to Danner, Sasha Lane as Sam’s artist girlfriend, Toni Collette as the most supportive landlord on the planet, and Ted Danson as Frank’s weed-smoking bar-owner pal.

REVIEW
Hearts Beat Loud
Three stars
Starring: Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Toni Collette, Blythe Danner, Sasha Lane
Written by: Brett Haley, Marc Basch
Directed by: Brett Haley
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

Anita Katz
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Anita Katz

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