I think a lot of dads with daughters have a rock-band fantasy tucked away in their closets — and, for obvious reasons, it really needs to remain a fantasy. Still, the dream persists: Inculcate your little girls with the Good Stuff (whatever version of classic rock or punk or post-punk that helped you survive your adolescence) and maybe they’ll someday take the stage to carry the virus forward to their peers. Maybe you’ll even get to play along. (That would never happen with the sons, even in the fantasy.) It’s a flattering way to hold on to the father-daughter bond while staying forever young.
This is serious cringe territory, needless to say, and all that keeps Brett Haley’s “Hearts Beat Loud” from becoming an unendurable Plaid Dad nightmare is the filmmaker’s awareness that the fantasy is ridiculous, delusional, and necessary. That and Nick Offerman as the Dad. Also, the songs are pretty good.
Otherwise, the movie sticks to the Sundance/indie template like flannel Velcro. Offerman’s Frank Fisher is a proud man-child throwback, owner of a record store (vinyl only!) in Red Hook (Brooklyn!), with interestingly curated facial hair and a daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), who’s about to head off to UCLA for pre-med studies but who still can be noodged to hang out for musical jam sessions with her dad. Or, as Frank calls it, dancing around like he’s at Woodstock II, “jam sesh!” Frank is an embarrassment, which is to say he’s a dad, but Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”) retains enough of his caustic deadpan to keep him on the charming side of the equation.
Prompted by her feelings for a new girlfriend (Sasha Lane, of “American Honey”), Sam has a tune buzzing around in her head, and Frank coaxes it out into their home studio and onto digital wax. It helps that the daughter has a throaty, impassioned voice and a way with a sampling machine and that dad knows how to channel his inner Neil Young on guitar. The song gets sent in to Spotify, makes it onto a weekly playlist, goes just viral enough to delight the father and worry the daughter by making the fantasy real. They call their band We’re Not a Band, a perfect act of intergenerational passive-aggression.
“Hearts Beat Loud” is gentle, funny, humane, and predictable, kept from becoming tiresome by a cast of pros that includes not only Offerman but Toni Collette as Frank’s landlady and possible love interest and a frisky Ted Danson as a philosophic stoner who owns the neighborhood watering hole. They make the thin storyline work for them, while Clemons looks pained and empathetic until she opens her mouth to sing and the movie clears the runway.
Director Haley, who co-wrote the script with Marc Basch, made “I’ll See You in My Dreams” (2015) with Blythe Danner (who has a role as Frank’s gently addled mother) and “The Hero” (2017) with Sam Elliott. He makes winsome small-scale fables about ordinary older people adjusting to the passage of the years, but this is the first time you can see the blueprint through the material.
What if the dad-fantasy actually started to come true? What if no one else shared it? How does a parent learn to shut up and let a child sing in her own voice, with her own words? The themes here are rich, the treatment indulgent and harmless, like a pre-fab version of a John Carney movie (“Once,” “Begin Again”). Haley nails the hipster musicological references, though: Frank namechecks Songs Ohia, Animal Collective, and mid-period Tom Waits, among other touchstones of indie-rock cool, and when Jeff Tweedy of Wilco makes a surprise cameo appearance, the movie assumes you’ll be as awestruck as Frank.
We are, dad, OK?
HEARTS BEAT LOUD
Directed by Brett Haley. Written by Haley and Marc Basch. Starring Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Toni Collette, Ted Danson, Blythe Danner. At Kendall Square, West Newton. 97 minutes. PG-13 (Some drug references and brief language)Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.