Hearts Beat Loud

Posted on June 7, 2018 at 5:12 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some drug references and brief language
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, references to drug use, scenes in a bar
Violence/ Scariness: Family and economic struggles, absent parent
Diversity Issues: Divers characters
Date Released to Theaters: June 8, 2018
Date Released to DVD: September 10, 2018
Copyright 2018 Gunpowder & Sky

Isn’t it nice that we get to go live in Brett Haley World every now and then? The gifted young writer-director of “I’ll See You in My Dreams” and “Hero” always gives us characters who might be flawed, who might not be where they expected or wanted or deserved to be, but who are marvelously human and endearing. His latest is “Hearts Beat Loud,” the story of a single dad with a failing business (vinyl records) and a bright, beautiful daughter about to leave for college. It is nothing less than high praise to say these are nice people. We love spending time with them. One reason is that Haley writes roles that great actors want to play, and he creates a space for them to do their best.

An early scene is not the usual father-daughter dispute. The daughter is Sam (Kiersey Clemons), a high school senior planning to be a doctor, and she wants to study to get ready for pre-med courses about the human heart. Her father, Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman), wants to entice her away from her studies for “a jam sesh.” She is not interested. He wants them to be a band and asks her to name it. “We are not a band,” she says. “We Are Not a Band” it becomes, a Schrodinger’s Cat of a name that is both true and not true. Frank impulsively uploads Sam’s song to Spotify. Some attention to the song makes Frank think that they — maybe she — could have the chance he always dreamed of.

Is Sam a kid who had to be the grown-up in the relationship because her father never got over his dream of music? Well, maybe a little bit, but In Haley’s films, nothing is ever simple or formulaic. Sam respects and loves her dad, and even shares his love for music. She understands why he wants her to play with him. They won’t have many opportunities to do things together when she leaves. It is the prospect of her leaving that makes strengthening that bond even more important, though they both understand that having lived away from home will change everything between them, even when she comes back. There is another reason Frank wants to spend more time with Sam in the place that means the most to him, though he may not recognize it consciously at first. He gets to a point, though, where he asks: “Is there a girl? Or a boy?”

It is a girl. Sam is in love with Rose (Sasha Lane), an endearingly sweet first love. The mutual support and respect between the two girls is beautifully portrayed.

Sam has a mother who needs more support (“I’ll See You in My Dreams” star Blythe Danner) and he has a landlady (Toni Collette) who is almost a member of the family. When he tells her he can no longer pay even the discounted rent she generously allows him, she does everything she can to find a way to keep him there because she cares about him and she knows he cares about the store. She knows he cares about her, too, but she is in a relationship. And Sam has a buddy, a pot-smoking bartender played by Ted Danson (nice to see him behind a bar again).

Every performance in the film is a quiet gem. Offerman, so good at comic bombast in “Parks and Rec”is even better in a role that is not heightened but natural and understated. Frank is holding in a lot of his feelings, partly because he does not want Sam to see him worry about the store, his mother, or getting on after she leaves. But Offerman lets us see all of that and more, and he never for a moment lets us think that Frank is or thinks of himself as a loser. Clemons is a real find, radiant and completely believable as the braniac future doctor, the smokin’ singer, and the girl on the brink of first-time teenage love. Danson and Collette settle into their roles with infinite grace. The music in the film is fine. The music of the film sings straight to the heart.

Parents should know that this movie has references to pot smoking, some drinking, non-explicit teen sex, references to loss, and brief strong language.

Family discussion: What would you name your band? Did Frank make the right decision? What will happen next?

If you like this, try: “Danny Collins” and “Janie Jones”

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I’ll See You in My Dreams

Posted on May 21, 2015 at 5:55 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sexual material, drug use and brief strong language
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Some mild peril, sad death
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 22, 2015
Copyright 2015 Bleeker Street
Copyright 2015 Bleeker Street

Blythe Danner gives a performance of exquisite sensitivity in “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” the story of a lonely widow. She plays Carol, a singer-turned teacher who retired 20 years ago after her husband died. Her friends in a nearby retirement community urge her to join them but she prefers to stay in her home, her primary companions her dog and her glass of white wine.

The movie begins by taking us through a day we surmise is just like hundreds of others. She plays cards with friends, she plays golf, she feeds the dog, she sips wine and watches television. She keeps busy and she is not unhappy. She has plans, and she has fun, but she does not have much of a sense of purpose. When a rat invades her home, it is unsettling. She asks her new pool cleaner for help.

His name is Lloyd (Martin Starr), and he is lost in a way that makes her feel able to talk to him.  Her feelings toward him are not maternal or romantic. But he is smart, and funny and self-deprecating and he was willing to help her with the rat.  And he is newly back in town and living with his parents, so he can use a friend, too.  When he tells her about going to do karaoke, she agrees to go with him.

A speed dating event with her friends is a hilarious disaster, but that may make an overture from a handsome stranger named Bill (Sam Elliott) seem more appealing.  Writer/director Brett Haley has a good sense for the way people who have no time for trivialities get to the point with each other, wasting little time on getting-to-know-you trivialities.  Carol’s conversations with Lloyd and Bill are direct without being intrusive, and especially without being judgmental.  When she is with her friends, there are easy exchanges that reflect the kind of connection based on the shared experience of being an older woman.  A scene where they all get high on one friend’s medical marijuana is completely charming.

It is almost beyond belief that this is Danner’s first romantic lead in a film.  She is breathtaking.  Haley wisely just leaves the camera on her beautiful face as she sits with her beloved dog while he slowly stops breathing in the vet’s office.  Her grief is devastating.  Her devotion is deeply moving.  Her performance of “Cry Me a River” in karaoke is also magnificent.  The incandescence she brings to the story of a woman who is still struggling for connection makes this one of the most touching performances of the year.

Parents should know that this movie has strong language, drinking and drugs, sexual references and situations, and a sad death.

Family discussion: What do we learn about Carol from the karaoke scenes? Why did she become friends with Lloyd? How is dating different for older people than for younger people?

If you like this, try: “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and its sequel

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Drama Movies -- format Romance

Interview: Brett Haley, Writer/Director of “I’ll See You in My Dreams”

Posted on May 21, 2015 at 3:12 pm

Copyright 2015 Bleeker Street
Copyright 2015 Bleeker Street

Brett Haley wrote and directed “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” a bittersweet romance starring the luminous Blythe Danner as Carol, a widow taking some tentative steps toward love with Bill, a handsome new neighbor played by Sam Elliott. Haley talked to me about why he chose to make his story about people in their 70’s and why music plays such an important role in the film.

Blythe Danner is magnificent in the film. In the scene where her beloved dog is put to sleep, she is mesmerizing.

Yes, that was a very challenging scene to film because we’re obviously dealing with an animal and animals are unpredictable. We have really amazing trainers and they really got the dog to a level of calmness that I’ve never seen. He’s trained to just get very, very calm and then I just let Blythe take her time and do what she wanted in there and she knew the script, she knew what we were doing and I just let kind of roll with it and we just set multiple takes back to back to back so that the dog would just stay calm. I didn’t want to come in and say cut and reset and all that. So we just rolled the camera and Blythe would just do the scene and then stop. And then she’d take a breath and then she’d do it again. It was a really tough scene to shoot obviously. It was a very sad scene and I thought, “Oh boy am I being manipulative? Am I being exploitative in any way?” But no, I really stand by it. I think the way it’s done was honest and truthful and that is my ultimate goal with everything that I do.

What interested you in writing about people of that age?

I’m very sort of intrigued and curious and fascinated by older people because I think they have a lot of life experience and they’ve gone through so much more than what I’ve gone through. I’m starting to ask questions about life and loss and why are we here and why do people die and how do you deal with loss and things like that. I think older people have experience quite a bit more of that. So to me it was a no brainer if I wanted to make a movie about those themes I should make it about older people. And then I think on the same hand when you think about it and you go yes, it’s like older characters especially in films are marginalized. They always put on the sidelines, supporting characters or plot movers, wacky characters.  They’re never the leads, they’re never fully dimensional, three dimensional leads or rarely I should say. And especially rare being romantic in any way and that was something that I was really intrigued by.

What are the biggest differences between romance early in your adult life and romance near the end?

People who are towards the end don’t have as much time to mess around. They cut to the chase more and I found that actually really refreshing to write. Bill certainly knows what he want and he goes for it. And I think there’s less time to sort of beat around the bush so to speak. I think when you’re young you think the world is ahead of you. You just don’t think about the realities as much when you’re young. You’re sort of caught up in a moment which is a great beautiful thing but I think when you’re older you can feel the weight of that ticking clock a little bit more. I think you’re a little bit more decisive. You just go after what you want more. I thought that was really fun. That was really fun to write.

Music is very important to the film.

Music does play a huge role in the film. There’s karaoke and Carol was a singer in her younger years and Martin’s character, Lloyd was in a band and a poet. I don’t want to spoil it for people but there’s a huge emotional moment in the film that is centered around the song of the title and I think it’s really crucial. I love music and I felt that it a really fun way to explore some of the emotions in the film.

Malin Akerman plays Carol’s daughter. What do we learn from the relationship between the two of them?

I think it’s unfortunately a bit of a common one. I think we get pretty self-obsessed in this world. I think we kind of we forget about the other people around us, who we love and who we think about. I think that they both had sort of been drifting naturally. No hard feelings but living in their own lives. They live on different coast and that sort of adds to the drift. I was trying to get at something to show a different side of Carol, that she is not perfect and neither is her daughter. I think they both should probably put more effort in their relationship. I wanted it to just be real. I didn’t want her daughter to show up in the movie and just be this perfect daughter and have this perfect relationship because that’s just not the way people are. There’s always something more there; there’s always something more layered. To me it rang true to pick them as slightly distant but then it’s really about them realizing how much they need other, how much they truly love each other and that they shouldn’t take each other for granted. The film is all about relationships really, and connection.

One of the highlights of the film is Carol’s relationship with her friends, played by three fabulous actresses, June Squibb, Rhea Perlman, and Mary Kay Place.

Everyone was my first choice and everybody just came on board this small budget movie without too much hoopla. They just responded to the material, I think they appreciated a three dimensional role that was on the page for all of them and I think that they just wanted to be a part of it. I was just super blessed to have them want to join the party. Blythe described it as a repertory company, in this together and not in it for the money but in it for the passion of the piece. And we just had a wonderful time, it was just a wonderful experience and so lucky to have these amazing actors believe in me and put their fate in me to go and make this film and gosh, I’m a lucky guy.

Did they have a lot of fun filming the pot smoking scene?

Yeah the girls were having a great time shooting that scene and it just shows how funny they are. They’re all comic geniuses. Obviously they were not really smoking pot, but everybody has been asking me if they were really high! Of course not. I think it’s very interesting that these ladies, they didn’t go for the cheap laugh. They went for the really honest stuff that comes out of that scene and I think that’s why it works. They don’t yuck it up too much. They keep it really grounded and honest.

What’s the best advice you ever get about directing?

The best advice I ever got was to be kind and gracious to everyone who works on your movie. Understand that no one is better or worse than you on a film set. A lot of directors take their power into their head and feel like they can treat people without respect. I’m a big believer and especially on the set but in life you should treat everyone with kindness. And then you should be grateful to everyone for their hard work especially when they’re working on your film. It’s very important to me that everybody gets treated with equal amounts of respect and no one is better than everybody else on a movie set or in the world. If you’re kind to people they’re going to be good to you and I think that’s the big life lesson. I think we forgot that. The energy that we had on that set did come through on the screen as well, from Sam Eliot down to the PA. Everybody wanted to be there and felt a part of this film and there was a really nice energy and I think it translated to the film.

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Blythe Danner Talks to Susan Wloszczyna About “I’ll See You In My Dreams”

Posted on May 18, 2015 at 3:46 pm

One of my favorite critics interviewed one of my favorite actresses — Susan Wloszczyna spoke to Blythe Danner about her role in the bittersweet romance, “I’ll See You in My Dreams.” Paltrow talks about introducing her daughter, Gwyneth Paltrow, to organic foods when she was a child, what she loves about stage acting, why low-budget independent films have more interesting roles, and kissing her co-star in this film, Sam Elliott, her first-ever kiss with a man who has a mustache.

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Actors Interview

Trailer: I’ll See You in My Dreams with Blythe Danner

Posted on April 10, 2015 at 8:00 am

Blythe Danner is the American equivalent to Helen Mirren — endlessly elegant, witty, radiant. I can’t wait to see this film, which shares its name with the Gus Kahn song and the biopic about Gus Kahn starring Danny Thomas and Doris Day.

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