A father and daughter who play–and stay–together
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
Regular readers know I’m the stepfather of two wonderful daughters. My older, college-age daughter is also in a band that’s on the road this summer. She’s living a dream, one that belongs completely to her and her bandmates, which means that the attention they have garnered comes with no strings attached to their parents back home. My youngest is a rising senior in high school, on the cusp of heading off onto her own path, but as the baby, she still makes time for me. We spend precious weekend afternoons together, playing old school videogames and reading comic books. I know these moments won’t (can’t) last, which is probably why I treasure them so damned much.
I bring all this up, to define a sacred kinship I share with Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) from Brett Haley’s new musical drama “Hearts Beat Loud.” Frank’s an older, yet still hip dude. The owner of a record store that still specializes in actual vinyl for its own sake, not the trendy return to the form that has so captivated the millennials, Frank lives enthralled by passion. Back in the day, he played in a band with the love of his life. The band didn’t gain fame or glory, but he and his lady produced a daughter. Sam Fisher (Kiersey Clemons), now a high school senior, takes pre-med classes during the summer before her freshman year, so that she can better position herself for highly-coveted internships.
Frank finds himself pestering her, in these final weeks before she departs, to join him for their cherished father-daughter jam sessions. A steady stream of music has coursed from his heart to hers over the years, and we can appreciate a better than workmanlike talent in Sam. She’s called, she believes, to medicine, but music speaks in not-so hushed tones to her as well.
They play together, and there is alchemic beauty in the interactions between Offerman and Clemons, who each display genuine musical chops and an affinity for the subtly shared interplay that we must believe these two have developed over the years. They are able to convince us that these exchanges are more than raw noodling sessions; Frank and Sam engage in real and honest communication via instruments and notes. And from that foundation, it’s not hard to understand how they can then talk to one another without retreating to cute sit-com set-ups and punchlines.
It is not at all surprising that Sam is the more adult partner in this dynamic. She’s not holding onto a deferred dream. Life is just an anxious step away. Frank has maintained a tight grasp on the past. We recognize that he hasn’t let go of Sam’s mother, despite the fact that she’s been dead likely for a decade or more. He probably grabbed Sam’s tiny hand back then and moved forward only by bravely swinging it back and forth, literally up to the moment we encounter them onscreen.
I love that Haley, along with co-screenwriter Marc Basch (the pair also teamed up previously on “I’ll See You in My Dreams” and “The Hero”), fearlessly present this relationship. There is a truth here that most other films would shy away from. Other movies would distract audiences with love interests for both the father and daughter and the unrealistic promises of success for them—happy endings straight out of a fairy tale that no one in their right mind would believe for a second, but that we’ve been conditioned to accept.
What’s crazy is “Hearts Beat Loud” does provide its share of complications. Sam lays eyes on Rose (Sasha Lane) in a raw storefront gallery and sparks fly, while Frank, on the verge of deciding to close his record store, acknowledges the comforting friendship he shares with his landlord (Toni Collete) and the suggestion that there could be more between them. But neither these relationships nor the buzzing sensation created when Frank posts one of their songs online can derail the inevitability of adulthood for Frank and Sam.
In every moment I share with my girls now, I exist in the action and objectively outside, observing. I enjoy the feeling of my own heartbeat as it thumps in my chest and ears, because I know that a change is coming in these relationships. We will always love each other, but the childishly clinging need will evolve into something else. That might be why I watch so closely. I, like Frank, want to hold on to their hands and run together, swinging our arms in wild arcs.
As parents, our souls live in those moments, and what a wonderful thing it is that Haley, Offerman, and Clemons have been able to bring that to life onscreen. That’s real magic.