In a world inundated with films about angsty artists rebelling against their more traditional parents, Hearts Beat Loud is the breath of fresh air that we didn’t even know we needed. Yes, it’s another entry into the, “‘You’re giving up on your dream.’ ‘No, Dad. I’m giving up on yours,’” film canon, but with a welcome twist: 18-year-old Sam (Kiersey Clemons) wants to attend UCLA for medical school and her father, record shop owner Frank, wants her to stay in New York and start a band with him. Frank (Nick Offerman) is the quintessential goofy dad, pulling his daughter away from studying so they can “jam sesh.” He plays an old guitar, and she plays a keyboard hooked up to a Macbook; he represents old school rock, and she represents contemporary pop. Together, they make an unlikely songwriting duo called “We Are Not A Band.”
But underneath this saccharine premise, father and daughter struggle to heal from a family death. Sam copes by burying herself in medical textbooks and planning to move to LA, while Frank smokes cigarettes and drinks at the bar, ignoring his failing record shop. By channelling their trauma into writing music, the pair finds that forming a band may have the potential to be a healthier coping mechanism.
The original music by Keegan DeWitt is infuriatingly catchy (I keep finding myself blasting the title song in my car as I drive around the city), with Clemons’ powerhouse vocals standing out amongst the bouncy synths. Along with her breakthrough performance as rapper/drummer Diggy in Dope (2015) Clemons has now officially claimed the niche title of musical indie darling.
Not only does Clemons possess the voice of an angel, she’s got the acting chops to boot. Her expressive eyes communicate through slow, thoughtful blinks and longing stares, telling us exactly what’s going through her head. The way she gazes at her girlfriend, Rose (Sasha Lane of American Honey), exudes a deep affection that’s louder than words could ever scream. And yet, her character Sam still manages to express these feelings through writing love songs for We Are Not A Band. It’s a difficult task to not shed a tear as Sam croons to Rose, “You told me to be brave and I will remember that.” It’s a task I failed spectacularly.
But I’ve gushed enough about Clemons. I must keep reminding myself that there are other characters in the film, too. Like current reigning scream queen Toni Collette, playing Frank’s landlady, who delivers a delicious karaoke rendition of “Bruises” by Chairlift. And Ted Danson, playing Frank’s chronically stoned bartender, who doesn’t really add anything to the plot, but is hilarious nonetheless. Though the film struggles to find satisfying arcs for these characters, and at times can feel like a not-so-subtle Spotify ad, these few missteps are masked by its feel-good, charm-filled atmosphere.
Okay, now back to Clemons. The revolutionary thing about her character is that she doesn’t experience any discrimination based on her race or her lesbianism throughout the entire film. As a mixed race bisexual woman, I saw myself in Sam when she joked around with her white dad and kissed her girlfriend underneath the city streetlights. While some may claim that erasing our issues is unrealistic, which it may be, it’s so refreshing to escape into a world where your marginalized identity isn’t a constant weight on your shoulders.
Films about LGBTQ+ characters have historically carried the burden of having to explain to the heterosexual audience the oppression that the community faces. We are finally beginning to get to a point where gay characters in semi-mainstream film can simply live without the entire plot being about their struggles with sexuality. Obviously, this does not mean that homophobia is over. It’s alive, and it’s ugly. But I’m tired of watching dramas where gay characters’ hearts get broken. Let them beat. Loud.