Hearts Beat Loud, from director Brett Haley (The Hero, I’ll See You In My Dreams), is one of those movies the three-star rating exists to describe. It won’t make any top ten lists, but it’s not a waste of time.

It feels like a film that was written in an afternoon—if, indeed, it was written at all, and not just brainstormed scene by scene. And it could have been shot over a weekend. It boasts a cast of irresistibly likable stars, audience favorites who could ad-lib for the full 90 minutes and make it worth your time. It moves between locations where most of us would enjoy spending time: an old-fashioned record store; a funky Brooklyn home that doubles as a recording studio; a friendly neighborhood bar “where everybody knows your name”; and a friendly neighborhood coffee shop, too.

Nick Offerman as Frank: His record store, his rules.

On the subject of beverages: If movies are the “What’s On Tap” list at a bar, Hearts Beat Loud is a pamplemousse-flavored La Croix listed in “Other Drinks” at the menu’s end. It’s kept in a fridge under the bar for somebody who thinks it’s just too early in the day for anything with a serious kick. And on a hot, stressful afternoon, that might be just the thing. If my brain is tired, if nothing needs my attention, and I stumble onto Hearts Beat Loud on TV, I’ll probably decide to “watch a few minutes” and end up watching to the end. It’s just so easy, enjoyable, and cost-free.

Here’s a good recipe for a solid, easygoing, three-star movie:

  1. Get Nick Offerman—a national treasure—to play Frank, a mildly disgruntled record-store owner who hasn’t entirely surrendered his dreams of being a rock star.
  2. Cast the radiant and wonderfully soft-spoken Kiersey Clemons (Dope) as Frank’s daughter Sam—who is willing to record pop songs with her dad(but not willing to make a career of it)—and you can count on the audience’s attention.
  3. Add the always-reliable Toni Collette (Hereditary) as a landlady, and Sasha Lane (kinder and gentler than she was in American Honey) as an artist. Develop their characters just enough so they can function as passable love interests for Frank and Sam.
  4. And then… the masterstroke: Convince Ted Danson to play a bartender again.
  5. Do a movie about music lovers right: Throw in some catchy songs. Remind us of the joy of jam sessions that worked such magic in Once and Sing Street. Then, decorate Frank’s record store—Red Hook Records—with album covers that convince us that you have impeccable taste.

Follow these steps and, well… you have have my attention, if not my twelve bucks.

Kiersey Clemons belts out a hit single in her home studio.

At this point in my review, you probably know whether you want to see Hearts Beat Loud or not. No, it’s not particularly profound. Yes, it’s predictable, but that’s okay — it doesn’t ever act like it means to surprise us.

  • Will Frank and Sam, tossing off a song for fun that becomes an unexpected overnight Spotify success, decide to throw away Sam’s plans to become a doctor and hit the road as a band?
  • Will Frank change his mind about selling the Brooklyn hole-in-the-wall record store he loves?
  • Will a world-famous folk-rock musician make a cameo as a Red Hook Records customer?
  • Will Nick Offerman work those eyebrows?
  • Will the movie frustrate our desire to see Woody Harrelson, Kelsey Grammer, or John Ratzenberg walk into Danson’s bar?
  • Will the songs be just good enough to make the movie work, but probably not be good enough to inspire anybody to cover them?

I think you can guess the answers to all of these questions.

So what’s left to say?

I’ll get personal:

Hearts Beat Loud gave me a chance to relax in some air conditioning after a stressful day. It made me laugh a few times (mostly because of Ted Danson), and it worked a little too hard to make me laugh a few other times. And it only made my heart beat loud on three occasions:

First… in pain, when a customer at Red Hook Records picks up the vinyl of Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool and then puts it back. For a moment I wanted to call the police, but then the scene took a turn that came as a relief.

Parks and Rec meets The Good Place in Hearts Beat Loud.

Second… in amazement, when Nick Offerman picks up a guitar and starts playing, of all things, “Ocean Man” by Ween, a song I love from an album I love, and yet I rarely ever encounter anybody making reference to it. But then he abandons the performance it a couple of lines in. Come on, man! You were making me so happy!

Third… in outrage, when a customer discovers Tom Waits’s Rain Dogs on vinyl in a $3 clearance bin. “Hang down your head,” indeed!

But the thing that actually made me cry — yes, I cried at this movie — was the experience of seeing a record store in its last hours before closing. This movie doesn’t revel in the glory of record stores the way High Fidelity did… but it’s been almost 20 years ago since John Cusack set the needle down on The Beta Band, so it’s good to see a shop like this on the big screen again.

It is one of my life’s unfulfilled dreams: to work in a record store, organize vinyl, buy vinyl, sell vinyl, recommend vinyl, and—most importantly—play DJ in the store all day long and late into the night. The death of record stores is the death of something distinctly, soulfully human, and I have been grieving the decline for many years.

The first records I bought from record stores with my own money were soundtracks: Vangelis’s Chariots of Fire, Angela Morley’s Watership Down, Trevor Jones’s The Dark Crystal. I still remember the thrill of standing before a glorious window display announcing the release of The Cure’s Disintegration in 1989 in Portland, Oregon—the very same window where I first saw the cover art for U2’s The Joshua Tree. And, speaking of U2, I’ll never forget staying up until midnight in front of Tower Records in Seattle in late November 1991 to buy one of the first copies of U2’s Achtung Baby. I’ve spent hours walking my fingers on both hands along the tops of LP covers so I can browse two stacks of records at once.

And just last week, I bought all of the remaining LP-cover frames from a frame shop clearance sale in my neighborhood and redecorated my office with album covers.

Watching Red Hook Records wind its way down toward closing, well… it poured salt into my open wound, and then drove in a knife and twisted it. I could name so many record stores that have been important in my life: Bird’s Suite and Music Millennium in Portland, Easy Street and Silver Platters in Seattle, to name a few. Even before I knew for certain whether Frank would change his mind about closing Red Hook Records or not, I was aching like somebody was stepping on and re-breaking a recently broken ankle.

If I could have, when the credits rolled, I would have gone straight from the movie to Sonny’s Bar and asked Ted Danson to pour me “the good stuff.”