Ah, young love. Young, sweet, gentle love — set to the rhythm of indie pop rock and against the backdrop of Brooklyn sunsets.
If I told you that a new indie comedy was coming out this weekend about the summer crossroads of young adulthood, with ironic hipster t-shirts and bike rides through the park, you’d probably nod along. This isn’t a new concept. It would likely star one of the Fanning sisters (Dakota or Elle), or Emma Stone before them. Their love interest would be someone like Tom Holland or Timothée Chalamet or one of those Chrises (I guess, I don’t keep up with young famous white boys, to be honest).
This isn’t that. This young love comedy is about two queer women of color — actually played by two young, out queer women of color starlets. Both of whom happen to be the talk of Young Hollywood; with multiple Sundance movies under their belts, Vogue features, and Met Gala red carpets between them. Inserting Kiersey Clemons and Sasha Lane into the middle of a film like Hearts Beat Loud is admittedly a small change to the trope of this movie’s genre, but that one change makes all the difference.
Kiersey Clemons stars as Sam, a UCLA bound, pre-med student soaking up her last summer at home. She’s effortlessly cool, but feels approachable. She’s the girl in your high school who always knew the perfect classic rock album for any occasion, but wouldn’t make fun of you for sticking to Spotify’s Top 40 playlist.
Sam’s father, Frank (Nick Offerman), is an affable single dad who runs a vinyl record store in Brooklyn on its last legs. They clearly have a close, loving relationship that feels lived-in and warm on screen. They’re each other’s complementary opposite. She lectures him about paying bills and the dangers of impulsive purchases; he forces her to take study breaks for “Jam Sesh Time,” playing and writing music together in their living room. It’s in those jam sessions that Sam and Frank best communicate, letting their homemade lyrics fill the spaces of their heart.
At its core, Hearts Beat Loud is a coming of age story for them both. Sam, getting ready for college across the country, and her dad, who’s preparing to support her through those changes while also reconsidering the routine of his life now that she’s leaving. They’re both staring down the precipice of a new chapter. Nick Offerman, who on some level will always be Park and Recreation’s grumpy Ron Swanson to me, is given opportunity to show the full colors of his range. Other productions often slot him into supporting character roles, but Hearts Beat Loud proves that he has a lot more to offer than his signature deadpan routine.
Really, I’m here for the intense summer romance between Sam and Rose (Sasha Lane, from this fall’s upcoming Miseducation of Cameron Post). I suspect you will be, too. Sam falls head over heels for Rose, hard and FAST. Together they make gentle jokes and stroke thumbs and their eyes look like heart emojis. Everything around them just feels… bubbly. And full and new and, quite simply, great. I don’t remember the last time I got to see young black lesbians have the opportunity to love each other like this on a big screen. In all honesty, the reason I can’t remember is probably because I never have.
Since they’re young lesbians, particularly young lesbians of color, on some level you watch the movie waiting for the other shoe to drop. At every corner you look, waiting for tragedy to strike. I’m so delighted to tell you this, it never happens. Sam and Rose’s relationship pain comes from typical teenage strife, the ticking stopwatch of Sam’s impending cross-country move hanging overhead. No one’s parents kick them out of the house, scared and alone. No one is assaulted or abused or subjected to a hate crime. They’re simply kids in love who check out art, listen to music, ride bikes, and speak in over-dramatic teenage proclamations.
It all feels normal. In fact, it’s purposefully normal. A merciful reprieve from the trend of films that, the few times they have lesbian protagonists at all, only serve to remind us of the hellscape that being queer in America can be. Instead, Hearts Beat Loud gives us a sweet love story that’s perfectly suited for an air-conditioned escape on a hot summer’s day.
Sasha Lane and Kiersey Clemons so beautifully fall into their characters that by the end of the film it hardly feels like they are “acting” at all. They find the truth in these young girls. They resist any urge to over perform, instead letting their relationship develop naturally on screen.
Here’s the breakdown: I just love this movie. It’s light, perhaps even fluffy, and yes a bit twee. But you know what, who cares? When was the last time a motion picture centered itself on the premise that a teenage, mixed race, black lesbian is worthy of support and love from everyone surrounding her? It’s simple and tender and because of those things it’s groundbreaking. It sneaks right up on you and barrels into your heart.
Which isn’t to say that they aren’t missteps. The excellent supporting cast — including Toni Collette, Ted Danson, and Blythe Danner — are mostly underused. The script leaves a few too many loose ends. The film’s third act, which largely focuses on Offerman’s Frank, left me wanting. Some might find the overall premise lacking in high stakes. The film gets through these rough patches based on the sheer strength of the cast’s heartwarming energy. Everyone feels happy to be there, so it’s hard not to enjoy watching them.
My only real sadness is that I didn’t have this around when I was 18 and a film dork who haunted my local indie house in Detroit’s suburbs because 100% I would have seen it at least four times. I would’ve said I loved it for the acting or the music, written by Keegan DeWitt and sung by Clemons and Offerman. But, I know that young me would’ve actually had a heart thumping crush on Sam, and I like to think that I would’ve seen parts of myself in her. It would’ve provided me with comfort, in ways that I couldn’t yet articulate that I needed.
See Hearts Beat Loud, if only so you can get on the Kiersey Clemons train before it turns into a bandwagon, because I promise you that’s where we’re heading. She’s an honest to goodness star. The camera lights up around her. Hearts Beat Loud is a vehicle that finally allows her to shine.
Hearts Beat Loud begins its nationwide rollout this weekend. You can check here for local listings and premiere dates.