Director Brett Haley's new film Hearts Beat Loud is something of a Trojan horse. The first scenes give every indication that we're going to see a lackluster update of High Fidelity. The main character, Frank (Nick Offerman), like Fidelity's Rob, owns a record store and lectures women about music as if they don't have opinions — or ears — of their own. But High Fidelity had no women as interesting as Frank's daughter, Sam (a radiant Kiersey Clemons), who, having grown up with a financially struggling parent (Frank's store is on its last legs), has apparently decided, “Fuck that shit.” She's about to go to UCLA as a premed student.
Before Sam leaves, Frank convinces her to record a song with him (he used to be in an indie band, of course). He explains, “It's time to put away childish things, like homework and med school.” They collaborate on an eminently forgettable tune: Those wishing for songs that sound like they were written by indie musicians for indie musicians, not actors who can sing and maybe play an instrument, should see Once instead.
Their song gets included on a popular Spotify playlist that includes other new, indie acts like … Iron & Wine. That artist, along with the rest of Frank's favorites — Songs: Ohia, Animal Collective and Jeff Tweedy (who even has a cameo) — were in their prime circa 2003. But we never know if Frank's outdated, hipster-dad (or, in the case of Iron & Wine, hipster-granddad) taste is part of the reason the store is going under. Or if the screenwriters (Haley co-wrote the script with Marc Basch) are just name-checking bands we might know, the same way a movie character's favorite book is invariably one most of us read in 11th-grade English.
The film takes place in New York's Red Hook neighborhood, where Frank opened his business 17 years ago, making him, as white artists often are, part of the first wave of gentrifiers in a place he is now being priced out of. But the filmmakers barely address this issue, and even the “old-timers” of the neighborhood, except for Frank's own daughter, are white.
The real reason to see this film is Kiersey Clemons' Sam and her romance with aspiring artist Rose (Sasha Lane). The relationship alternates between sweet and scorching (though we never see the couple do any more than kiss, fully clothed) and is the fount of the love songs Sam writes for the band she and her father form. I couldn't help, in spite of the sometimes very clunky script, breaking into a smile every time Sam and Rose have a scene together, even a corny bike-riding one. Clemons, who played the soft butch Diggy in Dope, and Lane, who is also in the upcoming The Miseducation of Cameron Post, are both out, queer women of color. In their characters we see the unalloyed joy and relief in having found one another some of us might remember from our own queer first loves.