I would like to first consider Nick Offerman. I'm not sure that what he's up to in Hearts Beat Loud, and for a pretty sizable chunk of the slender film's running time, I wasn't feeling it; but it is a damned interesting performance, one that leads to some very nice surprises throughout the film, and makes his character substantially more unpredictable than he might have been solely thanks to Brett Haley (who also directs) & Marc Basch's screenplay.

The scenario is pretty simple: widower Frank Fisher (Offerman), who once started a band with his deceased wife and recorded an album, has spent these last 17 years running a record store in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, and he's about to close it: his very nice landlady Leslie (Toni Collette) has been obliged to raise his rent, and the profit margins on physical media in the 2010s being what they are, he can't afford it. Meanwhile, his daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is just a few weeks away from traveling all the way to Los Angeles to start college, thus taking away the occasional jam sessions that are apparently the only thing Frank ever does for fun. One night, when they're in a particularly good groove, they record an entire song from Sam's lyrics, "Hearts Beat Loud", and after randomly, successfully getting it onto a decently high-profile Spotify playlist, Frank decides that this is the ideal moment to pursue his apparently deep-held wish to form a great indie rock band with Sam.

By way of clarification, this is a two-lead film, and Sam gets her own plotline (it is much more ordinary, though, and offers fewer layers to earn Clemon's excitingly casual, instinctive performance: she falls in love for the first time and thus feels her first pangs of romantic melancholy). But I wanted to talk about Offerman. So we have a few things going on: obviously, the incipient empty-nester situation, made very much sadder by the spectre of his dead wife. This overlaps with a more generalised weariness at knowing that he's old and he hasn't done very much (Offerman's white-streaked beard really comes into its own here), and that overlaps with his sweet but deeply pathetic attempt to live out his youthful rock star fantasies by encouraging his game, but obviously pitying and patronising, daughter to play in a band with him. Through all of this, Offerman's performance is... I don't know what word to use. "Blocky" is the one that keeps coming to mind, owing to the somewhat rigid, rectilinear cast to Offerman's head. He's underplaying things very intently, underplaying to the point that he almost seems to have completely flatlined on many of his line readings, and his facial expression rarely changes in the first third or so of the movie: slightly too widely-open eyes, teeth and lips firmly set, head just ever so slightly sunk down into his neck.

The minimalism of this approach is good on the one hand simply because it means that the small little touches of performance really stand out: when he moves his eyes or widens them even more in excitement, it feels like a major plot event. On the other hand, it starts to tell us a great deal about Frank, suggesting a firm control over every aspect of his being and refusal to let Sam (and probably also himself) notice how bored and sad he is; it suggests also that this control is itself wearying and self-sustaining. The result is a genuinely fabulous character, and adding in the very different, but equally small-scale approach Clemons takes to her role, Hearts Beat Loud proves to be a very lovely, moving two-hander about a father-daughter relationship that certainly could be healthier, but involves substantial mutual understanding and respect. It's pretty great.

Great enough to compensate for the rest of the film? That first depends on what we consider it to be compensating for. I think there's no doubt that Hearts Beat Loud suffers whenever Frank and Sam end up sharing time with another character. Moreso in his case: the film brings in Blythe Danner (as Frank's addled mother) and Ted Danson (as his zoned-out bartender best friend) in addition to Colette to flesh out Frank's world, and all three of the characters feel obviously, awkwardly written: you can almost sense the ghost of the pencilled-in notes on the first-draft screenplay where scenes needed to be added for the sake of balancing the flow, or whateveyou. All three actors are very fine, but to no end: they don't accumulate to any kind of chorus, they don't let us see more of Frank. They're just kind of there for the sake of a change of pace. At least Sam's scenes with her new girlfriend Rose (Sasha Lane) have the looseness of youth and the shyness of young love (also, the film's generally low-key approach means that there's only one microscopic line about Sam's sexuality and none at all about her biracial heritage, which feels exactly right for these characters and milieu), though there's little of the sparkle of the family scenes.

The other limitation - calling it a "problem" implied that anybody involved in making the film wanted to do something differently, which is clearly not the case - is that it's so very plain. The only scene that involves any kind of meaningful style at all is when the Fishers first record "Hearts Beat Loud", where Haley and Patrick Colman indulge in a shaggy montage that increasingly breaks time into perfect little isolated visual moments - guitar strumming, looping drums, mixing, and so forth - while the song builds and builds in energy (the film's songs, by Keegan DeWitt, are all very good, though they're not at all what I'd expect Frank to find interesting, given everything else we learn about his tastes). It's a great little snapshot of the kind of ebullience that can take over during the creative process, and it resembles nothing else in the movie, and it also occurs almost all the way at the beginning, which does mean that Hearts Beat Loud basically becomes every single indie film ever made for a while. If it fails to meet my criterion that a movie which would be just as good if it were a script reading by the same cast sitting around a bare table, that's almost entirely down to Offerman's fascinating body language.

Still, one can't fault a character-driven naturalist indie for the whole "handheld, raw lighting, slow pacing" thing, and the main characters are anyway very good. Nothing groundbreaking (it feels exactly like the "scruffed-up urbanites making music" films by director John Carney, especially 2013's Begin Again, with a looser narrative form), and I'm not sure that it's likely to be all that memorable, but it has an easygoing way about it that makes it easy to like a great deal, maybe even love it, in the moment of watching, and films about fathers and daughters aren't so common that we should discard one with this much understanding, sympathy, and gentle judgment. It's nice as hell, but unlike a lot of nice indie movies, it isn't just pure crowd-pleasing fluff.