And the Beat Goes On
Review by Ken Burke
This posting will reflect the reality that at times I’m glad to not be a paid film critic who’s expected to keep up with all (most?) of the current releases because my recent viewing choices—due to a combination of factors—have left me with only 1 movie to review for you this time (I had the same problem last week, leading me, fortunately, to American Animals [Bart Layton; review in our June 27, 2018 posting]) because throughout my many-moviegoing-years I find I’ve already seen enough of dinosaurs on the rampage (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom [J.A. Bayona]); American lawmen—authorized or otherwise—in bloody battles with south-of-the-border-thugs (Sicario: Day of the Soldado [Stefano Sollima]), no matter how much such crud deserves to die for their involvement in violent drug cartels/human trafficking; celebrities of various kinds—basketball stars in this case—in inane stories made only to draw your attention to someone not in their usual professions (Uncle Drew [Charles Stone III]), or family/friends under assault from malevolent spirits (Hereditary [Ari Aster]), so with the choices available to me and my marvelous wife of 28 years, Nina Kindblad (more on that just below), boiling down to the documentary on Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Morgan Neville)—which seems to be a marvelous antidote to the sociopolitical misery of our current days but had just been seen by one of our regular viewing companions so we wanted to give him some variety before he flew off to London for the summer—or Hearts Beat Loud, which at least also has an upbeat message but again comes down to yet another relatively-obscure-offering from me few of you even have access to at this point, the decision was half-heartedly for Hearts … .
However, in case you might be wondering why I couldn’t at least prowl around toward some of the other filmic-obscurities available in my Oakland/Berkeley theaters I’ll answer with the explanation that Nina and I recently slipped away for a couple of days to celebrate our anniversary with some tasty wines at Hahn Estate (Soledad, CA), followed up by a marvelous dinner at Matxain Etxea Basque Restaurant (San Juan Bautista, CA—so homey they don’t even have their own website at present), and a lovely stay in a spacious room at Posada de San Juan—with none of the above comping me anything for these mentions, I just wanted to share my support for all these places because we enjoyed them so much (attested to by this photo showing our mutual satisfaction, which came out rather well considering it was shot blindly in camera-forward-mode because neither of us tech-challenged old farts remembered how to switch it around for proper selfie viewing). I’m also posting early this week because we’ve decided to spend some time with our doing-better-than-expected-so-far-this-season-Oakland Athletics baseball team when they play the San Diego Padres on July 4, my normal Wednesday posting day. Maybe next week I’ll be more in a blogging state of mind, but until then I’ll offer you just this single review of a family tale filled with music. (Actually, let’s start with a non-Hearts …-related tune [except where my heart’s concerned] by a detour to "Graceland" [from Paul Simon’s 1986 album of the same name; video from 1992] to finish out our anniversary celebration because the song has special meaning for Nina and me [see the review-ending-comments in our May 31, 2018 posting for an explanation if you like] just as the songs in the movie referenced below have special meanings for the 2 characters who wrote them.)
Hearts Beat Loud (Brett Haley)
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): A widower-father’s about to see his only daughter leave for college on the other side of the continent where she dreams of becoming a doctor while he’s still clinging to whatever dreams he can justify about the musical career he never fully accomplished, leaving him running a record store in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn for years even though that’s also coming to an end because his sparse sales can’t justify the rent increase. After convincing his daughter to join him in a jam session, though, he sends their resulting recording to Spotify where it gains a spot in their New Indie Mix rotation, reviving his hopes their computer-enhanced-accompaniment-duo might have a short burst of a career prior to the girl’s departure (which she’s both excited but still hesitant about, as it means giving up her artist girlfriend)—he even resurrects one of his old songs to enhance their repertoire. There’s not much in the way of intense drama here, just a viable look at how ordinary people often must deal with decisions not easily resolved (even if, in this case, it’s a matter of Dad taking the landlord’s advice about a partnership in a revived-record-store-overhaul or simply following the easier path of putting music behind him completely in favor of just taking a job in a local deli). What else—besides a lot of live-music-performances—awaits you in this movie I’ll leave to the spoiler-laden-comments below, although if you do care to find Hearts … for yourself, either in the few theaters where it’s playing or later through some video format, you’ll see a story supportive of sincere family connections (with a PG-13 context not of the more decorum-challenging-content such as you’d find in somewhat-related-cinema such as Lady Bird [Greta Gerwig, 2017; review in our November 23, 2017 posting]).
Here’s the trailer: (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)
If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who want to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify any give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this:
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.
What Happens: Frank Fisher’s (Nick Offerman) facing the latest round of challenges in his not-quite-what-he’d-hoped-for-life because his daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), is on the verge of heading far west from their Red Hook, Brooklyn neighborhood to begin her college-work-heading-for-medical-school-career at UCLA while Dad’s circumstances are dwindling as his record store (just vinyl—damn it!—and if you don’t like the proprietor smoking in his own shop you know where you can stick your opinions [in a PG-13 manner, of course!]) will have to close soon, after 17 years, because Frank can’t afford the rent increase his landlord, Leslie (Toni Collette), has reluctantly imposed on him (further frustrating what remaining musical-connections he has, with his long-ago-dreams of a career on stage thwarted by the combination of lack of opportunity to rise above the so-many-other-aspirants and the death of his wife/band-member, Sam’s mother, who seems to have missed most of her child’s life). In an attempt to pull Sam away from the college-prep-course she’s taking for her medical education, Dad insists she join him for one of their now-infrequent-jam sessions (their lives are drifting apart a bit) which, with a good bit of over-dub-recording to bring in all the musical parts (Frank on bass, lead guitar, drums; Sam on vocals and computer-driven-sampled-sounds of her own creation) produces a lively song of Sam’s, “Hearts Beat Loud” (she wrote it because she doesn’t yet feel her heart’s as full as it should be) which Frank sends in on a whim to Spotify. To his joyous surprise he soon finds it in rotation in one of their genres (obviously not the oldies ones I listen to occasionally), leading him to pressure Sam to postpone college so they can keep making music for a year or so (a desire intensified when a local record company producer approaches Frank about an actual contract for their We’re Not A Group, a name Frank added to their endeavors from one of Sam’s dismissive statements). Sam’s not willing to go along with this, though, driving a wedge between them, even as she legitimately has qualms about leaving the East Coast because she has a solid romance going with a local visual artist, Rose (Sasha Lane).
That’s the essential plot structure/conflict of Hearts … although other strands of activity include: Frank commiserating about his troublesome situation with local bar owner Dave (Ted Danson)—who’s, after 30 years keeping his place open, more interested in disconnecting from conflicts by using the primo weed available to him from a dealer up in Woodstock; Frank clearly showing some personal interest in Leslie (she gets to sing as well at an open-mike-night at a local club, so, if nothing else, you get a serving of musical numbers in this movie without it becoming a full-blown-La La Land [Damien Chazelle, 2016; review in our December 21, 2016 posting]-type musical where folks in the industry get to constantly show off their wares for a couple of hours) but that gets complicated by the re-emergence of old boyfriend Ryan (Quincy Dunn-Baker) as well as her pushing Frank to go into partnership with her to remodel/refocus the record store (a somewhat intriguing idea to him, especially as an alternative to working in a local deli, about the only other employment option he’s got short of any sort of musical career with his talented daughter, but one he rejects [more bitterly than he truly has a right to] when he senses it would be merely a business partnership); Frank having to focus more of his energy than he really has to keep watch on his mother, Marianne (Blythe Danner), now getting into enough trouble with her encroaching dementia that he has to move her into his apartment, even though that lands him on the couch. ⇒Despite these various conflicts, everything comes to a nice conclusion when Sam warms up to Dad again (after learning to ride a bicycle with just a few minutes of instruction so she and Rose can peddle over to Coney Island, although she comes home quite late, furthering her division at that time from Frank) by suggesting that on the last night of his going-out-of-business-sale they perform a few numbers (including the appropriate "Everything Must Go," written as is all the original music by Keegan DeWitt), which goes over well with the small crowd in the shop, lets us see again Clemons’ singing talent (Offerman's quite competent on lead guitar as well, both of them performing live with limited-later-overdubs), gives us a fleeting sense Sam might stick around NYC for awhile longer after all until ending scenes make it clear she’s now in LA, with a clear sense something’s brewing between Leslie and Frank, even as he settles into his new job as a bartender at Dave’s place, allowing his friend some off-time to more actively pursue his own form of organic enlightenment.⇐
So What? When I started mulling over the relative significance of what goes on in this movie the first thing coming to mind was the song "Good Hearted Woman" (written by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson in 1969, recorded by Jennings for his 1972 album of the same name, then became a much bigger hit as a duet by the co-writers on their 1976 Wanted: The Outlaws! album with the version here done live in Nashville, 1987*) which tells of the patient love of a “good-hearted woman” for her “good-timin’ man” (apparently a lyric inspired by what Waylon saw in a newspaper ad about Ike and Tina Turner) even though you have to understand my reading of the song in the mode of my usual review-wrapping-Musical Metaphors because these specifics are about a couple (probably married so long neither of them can remember how many years it’s been) where the forgiving wife loves this lout “in spite of his wicked ways She don’t understand [… even though] the good life he promised Ain’t what she’s living today,” instead of the movie’s situation with a daughter who’s increasingly frustrated with her father for not accepting her “Dreams [she won’t let] just fell by the way" while he’s trying to recapture “the bright light, the nite life And good-timin’ friends” of his music-fueled-youth, probably partially in desperation of bringing back the loss of his own “good-hearted woman” who loved him so long ago. But even if the woman in this song doesn’t always understand her man, don’t you misunderstand me by thinking I’m implying in any way there’s anything inappropriate going on between Frank and Sam (again: PG-13); it’s just this old song (more so than the ones on this movie’s soundtrack, which speak well to Sam’s confusion about how to face her jumbled feelings about pursuing a more stable, financially-sound life than Dad’s been able to provide for her) for me more successfully addresses the father-daughter-bond enduring beyond (mostly) “teardrops,” finally seasoned with some “laughter,” co-screenwriter/director Haley says he was aiming for in developing this story, shot in a concise 19 days, largely on location in Red Hook.**
*But, in accordance with the frequent musical performances you'll find in Hearts …, if this song works well with 2 country-music-legends then here it is with 4 of them as Waylon and Willie are joined by Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson in a version by The Highwaymen (a date's not cited).
**If you’re not familiar with Red Hook’s storied past, I’ll cite some notable residents from various times (some of them born there as well) including gangsters Al Capone and Joe Gallo, authors H.P. Lovecraft and Norman Mailer, actors Eli Wallach, Michelle Williams, and Michael Shannon (as well—according to some accounts—Steve Rogers/Captain America, but others say he's from lower Manhattan so you may have to read stacks of comics to find a definitive answer) while On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954) was set there (despite actually being filmed mostly in Hoboken, NJ).
I think Haley muddies up his intentions a bit with scenes more about giving screen time to the good-natured-presence of name-brand co-stars than really adding more depth to this story (especially the sideways plot meanderings with Danner’s character), but all in all I won’t “complain of the bad times” too much because there’s lot of good intentions here: to give struggling families reason to believe they’ll find some solutions to the specific, (relatively) small-scale problems they’re facing; to encourage all of us to dream big but not turn dreams into distractions from more-viable-life-alternatives; to put lesbians of color on screen (Sam’s biracial, Rose is of Black origin as well, with both of these actors calling themselves queer even though that wasn’t why they were hired; they’re friends in real life as well, so how unrehearsed those passionate kisses are is a line of inquiry some website must have some information about if you wish to pursue it) in a context accepting them as a natural part of the narrative without the story dwelling on the burden of struggles with identity-trauma within/social ostracization of such characters, as with a film like Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016; review in our November 10, 2016 posting—the ultimate Best Picture winner of its year after the announcement debacle regarding La La Land at the 2017 Oscar telecast)—see the interview with Haley as the second entry connected to this movie in the Related Links section a bit farther below. Ultimately, though, Hearts … also seems too much like an extended audition tape for Clemons (with Offerman getting to show off his newly-learned lead guitar chops also—once again, check out that long interview below for more details) with a family-conflict-story constructed around it than a fully-realized-exploration of the intended dynamic between this particular father and daughter, but the songs are catchy, the actors sincere in their roles, so the whole experience is—if nothing else—a pleasant respite from the daily grind of our real world, if just for a run of 97 minutes.
Bottom Line Final Comments: As with other more-obscure-cinematic-offerings I’ve chosen to review lately you’re going to find more critical than audience embrace for Hearts Beat Loud, but that’s based as much on viewing opportunities as it is on public acceptance of what’s on screen. For the critics, the ones at Rotten Tomatoes are highly supportive with a commendable 89% batch of positive reviews while the folks surveyed by Metacritic are their usual more-restrained-selves, giving a 67% average score (still a decent sense of support from them), but after a month in release Hearts … has made only about $1.3 million in domestic (U.S.-Canada) box-office-receipts—not much to brag about—but that’s based on only playing in 170 theaters so far (a number still slowly climbing) so maybe critical support will eventually bringing in a wider viewership. I didn’t find it a waste of my viewing time (although 2 of my viewing companions weren’t all that impressed, while Nina liked it a bit better than me, so I’m a bit in the middle of the 4 of us; I will say bargain-matinee-prices would likely improve your reception-attitude). As for bringing this all together with an actual Musical Metaphor for Hearts Beat Loud, maybe I’m being lazy but I’m going with the title song from the movie’s soundtrack at https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=8jqY33OeY80&frags (the official music video for this song, illustrated with movie scenes, or—if you want to sing along with it—you might prefer this version using the same music and visuals but with lyrics added) because, while it doesn’t really address the father-daughter-dynamic all that much it does capture what Sam’s confronting in her huge swirl of personal concerns/confusions, which may well be what the more ideal target audience for this movie would be focused on rather than her Dad’s distant dreams of rock stardom (maybe that’s what appealed to me more, sharing such, even though Frank clearly displays more musical talent than I could ever conjure up no matter how enthusiastic I was about trying to be a performer of even the caliber of my friends who possibly could have found careers on stage had they not made more pragmatic decisions like Sam did) as, no matter how much Sam wants a clear path to a future she can embrace, she has to admit “I can’t make my heart feel like that [… even as she goes on wishing] I had said what I meant way back then.” (A universal refrain, no matter how young we are, a nice touch of the depth this movie sincerely aspires toward but not always so successfully as audiences may not necessarily "hear you calling, ‘Don’t leave me here alone’" despite those good intentions.)
Before I leave, though, please recall that in my introductory comments for this posting I made mention of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a documentary about the late Fred Rogers who spent years on TV being a warm, gentle presence for children, encouraging acceptance, decency, and a sense we can all coexist in our individual neighborhoods (no matter how small or large that term might imply), like Hearts Beat Loud another intended dose of positivity produced to offer an alternative to the troubled state of our currently-divided-society where tribal separations are pushing us farther apart rather than allowing the attitudes of integration Mr. Rogers quietly preached (as an ordained Presbyterian minister, as well as a Reagan-era Republican, but neither one of those affiliations found their overt way into his messages the way certain Fundamentalist Christians and politicians of all sorts make it their purpose to admonish those who don’t share their narrow beliefs today). However, in that other circumstances and choices of how to fill my days (as noted far above, with anticipation of a couple of highly-interesting-openings on the horizon for next weekend), I doubt I’ll get to this documentary so if you’d like to know more about a film that’s already earned a lot of praise (an astounding 99% positive rating at RT, an equally-supportive 85% average score from MC) you can visit the official site and the trailer. I’ll even give you a free Musical Metaphor to maybe put you in the mood for seeking this one out for yourself, the Beach Boys "Friends" (from their 1968 album of the same name) in recognition both of the open-minded-attitudes toward friendship espoused by Mr. Rogers and the simple, joyous, low-key video produced for the Beach Boys, the band members surrounded by their own families. (With the sad missing-person-case of Brian Wilson, so crucial to this group’s existence and success but at this point in his life sinking further into psychological turmoil that kept him out of the public eye [Bruce Johnson had replaced him on stage, also joined them in the studio], increasingly less active in the band’s career until his later re-emergence, well explored in Love & Mercy [Bill Pohlad, 2014; review in our June 10, 2015 posting].)
That’s it for me this week—Wait! Stop the presses posting! I just checked my email before going into the laborious task of getting these thoughts into the blog when I found a message from—speaking of friends—my good-buddy-since-high-school Rick Ansell with this link to a Houston Chronicle article about the 50 greatest Texas movies, which I’ll share with you not as an addition to the peace-and-love-message of Mr. Rogers but something that could counter all that sweetness with reminders of some dramatic/heartbreaking/possibly-polarizing/often-overpowering looks at the fabled Lone Star State (my home 1947-1984, minus a couple of ill-chosen-years in NYC) which could possibly be summed up by this opening-voiceover-monologue from E. Emmet Walsh’s character in Blood Simple (Joel and Ethan Coen, 1984): “Now go ahead, y’know, complain, tell your problems to your neighbor, ask for help, ‘n watch him fly. Now, in Russia, they got it mapped out so that everyone pulls for everyone else … that’s the theory, anyway. But what I know is Texas, an’ down here … you’re on your own.” It would take me some time to mull over this list in regard to agreement or not (except Blood Simple and Giant [George Stevens, 1956] need to be higher up, the latter if for no other reasons than it features the final [marvelous] performance of James Dean while its main theme provides the inspiration for the fight song that once meant so much to Rick and me [“… We are Tornadoes Ball High School Tornadoes We are the greatest power known”]), but I’ll agree Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie, 2016; review in our August 26, 2016 posting) could be a contender for #1 or at least for likely containing the greatest Texas-based-short-scene when the 2 Texas Rangers (Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham) go into a café in a west Texas town for lunch, only to have the grizzled waitress (Margaret Bowman) growl about “What do you not want?” because there are no choices or substitutions on the menu, just omissions. (My mother [also named Margarett, but with 2 “t”s; I’m not too sure about my grandmother’s spelling acumen] was a waitress before marrying my Dad in 1942; I could see her as the inspiration for this role during her crankiest days.)
So, look over this list until we meet again to see what you think about it maybe while listening to The Highwaymen sing "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)" (a 1990 live performance; the song’s written by Bobby Emmons and Chips Moman, first appears on Jennings 1977 Ol’ Waylon album), or if you really want to invest yourself in the heart of Texas you might prefer "Texas Trilogy" from the 1969 Frommox (Steve Fromholz, Dan McCrimmon) album Here To There, a grand tribute to the largely-forgotten-people who keep every state in the U.S.A. functional by pushing through their daily chores no matter how difficult or uninteresting they might be. (It's a group of stories about Bosque County, TX, a bit south of Dallas; whether that name is in any way connected to the Basque culture from Spain/France Nina and I recently reveled in [go back to this posting's top if you need a reminder] I have no idea [although this area was named for its wooded terrain by early Spanish explorers], but I'll bet there are simpatico souls in both areas who'd appreciate the triumphs of making it on through to the next day, hoping for even better tomorrows.)
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
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Here’s more information about Hearts Beat Loud:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSryoFPBuOc&frags= (53:38 interview with director/co-writer Brett Haley and actor Nick Offerman)
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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken
P.S. Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker. But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
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