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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Interview: Writer/Director/Editor Brett Haley on Sam Elliott and “The Hero”

Posted on June 21, 2017 at 10:00 am

Copyright 2017 Northern Lights
Sam Elliott played a small but very significant role in writer/director/editor Brett Haley’s last film, “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” starring Blythe Danner. The experience inspired Haley to create a lead role for Elliott, based very loosely on his own experience as an actor who has appeared in many westerns and has an iconic image. I interviewed Elliott about the role, and then I spoke to Haley about how it came about. “We became close on the set of ‘I’ll See You in my Dreams,’ and then we really became friends doing promotion for the film and I just knew that I really wanted to work with Sam. I knew that I just admired him as a person and a friend and also an actor and I just really wanted to give him a performance platform essentially and let him do something that we’ve never seen him do before. Of course, he is playing an actor that is known for roles that Sam in real life is known for, so there’s a weird sort of meta thing happening. But I don’t think he’s doing in this film what he’s done previously in other films. I think he shows a incredibly sensitive and vulnerable and humorous side that will be new to his fans. We wanted Sam to play an actor and so it would be hard to avoid the fact that he would be known for his voice and his western kind of status. So we use that in the film to play against and but then we go much deeper into what it means to be known for only one type of thing.”

Lee, the actor Elliott plays in the film, is neither as successful or as stable as Elliott is in real life. In the film, he is something of a has-been, with an estranged daughter and an ex-wife (played by Elliott’s real-life wife, Katharine Ross). Lee very much wants to be cast in a particular role, and in one of the movie’s highlights we see him prepare for an audition by reading lines with his friend and drug dealer, played by Nick Offerman. “We see him be an amazing actor when he’s rehearsing for the audition,” Haley said, “but the way he behaves in the actual audition and his carelessness with his life shows a lack of discipline and professionalism that I think is part of being a good actor. Auditioning and acting are two very different skills. Being a great actor doesn’t always mean that you’re good at auditioning. Auditioning is a whole separate skill. Even the most amazing actors blow an audition because of the pressure or because something is going on in their life. And being a good professional is a great thing but people like Marlon Brando and Orson Welles who are some of the greatest movie stars and actors ever, you could say that they were not always the most professional but I don’t think that makes them any less of an incredible actor. Being difficult or not having a good work ethic, these are human qualities that I don’t think have anything to do with being an actor. It’s really fun to see that Lee still has some gas in the tank as a performer, even if he does not have the discipline to handle the audition.”

Lee is invited to accept a lifetime achievement award from a group of western fans. He brings a much younger woman named Charlotte (Laura Prepon) and they get high together on the way there. “The event is something that’s meant to be seen as initially as disappointing, certainly not the Oscars or the SAG or the Golden Globes. It’s a small society of people that want to keep the western alive, that still love the western. Because Lee is on drugs, he becomes more open to the love that these people have for him, he accepts it. Having fun with it and not taking it so seriously and just being in the moment allowed him to then embrace the love of his fans and understand that it does mean something in the end to be loved by anyone, to be remembered even if it is for just one movie.”

I asked him about the unusual combination of writing, directing, and editing. “They’re all the same basic idea, shaping the story. You’re writing when you write it and you’re writing when you shoot it and you’re writing when you edit the film. You’re rewriting all the time. You’re always working on honing the story and making the elements work. That’s been part of my process since I was a kid making movies. I’m certainly thinking as I film of how to protect myself in the edit.”

Actors who have worked with Haley have said that they appreciate his flexibility in giving them a chance to try different approaches. “That’s all you’re doing as a director to a large degree is collecting material so you have options. You can’t be too set on getting it just one way. I’ve learned over the years you need to get as many ways as you can because you could be wrong and I like being able to play with it in the edit and have fun with it. I know what I want but I also think my actors will do their best when you let them bring their own interpretation to certain things. But I certainly think that we’re all on the same page before we get on set. That’s a really important distinction, so it’s not like they’re doing the scene in a completely different way that I would initially want. So by getting on the same page and then on set we are able to play and try new things and experiment.”

Haley said it was “a real treat” to have Ross play the role of the ex-wife. “Katharine is an icon in her own right, an amazing actor and an amazing woman. To have a real life married couple who play exes made it a lot of fun to play with because there’s a lot of history between Sam and Katherine and I think you can see it come across off screen. I think it was a little weird but also fun for them to play a couple with a lot of history and their real life experience informed a lot of the great work that goes on between them.”

Interviewer: As a writer you kept a lot of information away from us, you know I often think that’s the difference between an independent film and a studio film is how much they feel that they have to explain to you and you didn’t give us a lot of information about what happened in that relationship or what happened in a relationship with our we have a general sense of his not being there but how do you decide sort of where to, how much information to give the audience?

He does not overdo the exposition and backstory in his films. “I think about it in terms of how people actually talk to one another in real life. People don’t do monologues about their backstory when they’re seeing their ex-wife or their daughter or ‘let me list all the ways I was terrible to you’ or ‘you remember that time I was bad.’ I know that audience is a really smart and I think they understand what could have caused the rift between them. It’s clear that he was an absent guy, a selfish guy and I think that’s all they need. I think that the more specific you get when it comes to a back story it just becomes sort of a cheat, it’s telling the audience how to feel instead of letting them just simply feel. I always tend to go for the more subtle approach and let the actors’ faces tell the story rather than my words or some kind of exposition do the work.”

Haley was sensitive to avoiding the usual dynamic of a movie relationship between an older man and a younger woman. “I thought it would be interesting to see this character that Laura I think brilliantly plays, be more of the pursuer. He’s not really sure if he can trust her or not you’re not really sure what her intentions are with Lee. I wanted to play with that. I wanted Lee to be weirded out and cautious and just not comfortable with the situation and I thought that was a really fresh take. That’s what Mark Basch and I like to do. We like to take those cliches and we like to turn them into more honest and more appealing circumstances and characters. So it was a challenge to get right but I’m very proud of that relationship and how it comes off. It goes in very surprising places. It’s not as simple as beautiful young woman, old guy ending up together; it’s a lot more than that.”

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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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