I’m usually a sucker for big, loud action comedies that have all the subtlety of a sledgehammer falling off a skyscraper, so I was looking forward to seeing the new movie “Tag” last weekend.
Starring an interesting cast of witty guys — Ed Helms, Hannibal Buress and Jeremy Renner chief among them — who appeared ready to bring a unique flavor to the ridiculous yet true-life tale of grown men in their 40s who have been playing the same elaborate, stunt-driven game of tag since childhood, the trailer looked fast-paced and funny.
Unfortunately, I was shocked to find that “Tag” was tone-deaf on every level, amped up to an obnoxious frenzy that made me want to throw each one of its characters off rooftops and out windows myself, game or no game. I tagged out at 30 minutes and had my afternoon saved by a completely unexpected gem called “Hearts Beat Loud,” which combines great indie-rock music with a touching father-teenage daughter relationship to steal viewers’ hearts with an engagingly human story featuring people you can actually care about.
“Hearts” stars Nick Offerman as Frank Fisher, a record-store owner in Red Hook, New Jersey and widowed father of teen daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons), who is getting ready for the pre-med program at UCLA. The two have always bonded over their shared love of music and frequently engage in jam sessions that Frank records mainly for fun and their own private listening.
But when Sam falls for an artistic teenage girl named Rose (Sasha Lane) , she suddenly has sharper, more romantic lyrics on her mind . Frank’s not fazed by her attraction to Rose at all — a refreshing evolution from countless other films in which coming out is the source of high drama and great tension — but rather, is excited to hear her suddenly writing and belting out an irresistible tune.
In fact, it’s so irresistible that Frank secretly submits the track to Spotify in hopes of seeing whether it will be accepted by the streaming service. It’s an instant success, landing next to veteran acts like Spoon on a hot indie playlist, but Sam is torn by Frank’s sudden desire for her to drop out of school and fulfill his personal lifelong dreams of rock stardom.
Add in Frank’s own struggle to decide whether to shut down the record store or take up a bold new partnership idea from his landlady (Toni Collette) and the persistent advice offered by his buddy bartender Dave (Ted Danson), and the film builds a quietly compelling narrative. To its even greater credit, things do not go where you might expect them to by the end, making this a fresh delight in a summer of pre-packaged predictability.
Co-writer/director Brett Haley scored a minor indie hit last year with the critically acclaimed Sam Elliott comedy “The Hero,” in which a slightly older movie star comes to terms with his past and mortality. He mines similar turf here, drawing winningly relatable performances from Offerman, Collette and Danson, while giving Clemons a chance to shine in a breakout role that indicates she’ll be a talent to watch for years to come.
At its best moments, “Hearts Beat Loud” makes a great companion piece to the three terrific musical drama of Irish director John Carney (“Once,” “Begin Again” and “Sing Street”). Carney’s films also show the catharsis and joy that creating great music provides, though Haley only has a couple of songs in this film rather than a full soundtrack’s worth of tunes.
The film also drags a little too much near the end, but overall its surprising turns will keep viewers engaged throughout. That’s a lot more than can be said for “Tag.”
“Hearts Beat Loud”: B
Stars: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett,
Length: 110 minutes
Directed by: Gary Ross
This female reboot of the George Clooney-Brad Pitt heist-comedy “Ocean’s 11” trilogy has plenty of zing, laughs, twist and excitement after a slow first half-hour, making it a highly enjoyable romp. Hathaway steals the show (pun intended) sending up her glam movie-star image as the gang tries to steal a $150 million necklace directly off her at the Met Gala. Grade: B
Stars: Barry Keoghan, Evan Peters, Ann Dowd
Length: 116 minutes
Directed by: Bart Layton
A gritty heist film based on the true story of four bumbling college students who tried to steal the world’s rarest books from their school library, only to have fundamental planning go wrong. Director Layton adopts the unique trick of having the real-life robbers tell their actual story throughout the film, interspersed with the dramatized events to create a fascinating tale. Grade: A
Stars: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson
Length: 118 minutes
Directed by: Brad Bird
Pixar’s 2003 megahit finally lands a sequel, with the superhero family trying to save the world again but with deft satire of family roles as wife Helen/Elastigirl takes the lead in their adventures and leaves Bob/Mr. Incredible to watch their baby Jack-Jack, who suddenly unveils wild powers. Extremely funny and exciting. Grade: A
WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?
Stars: Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers, Betty Aberlin
Length: 94 minutes
Directed by: Morgan Neville
This documentary on the life of TV legend Fred Rogers has a quiet power that sneaks up on viewers, as it reminds us that his seemingly simple “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” tackled heavy duty issues like war, divorce and racism. The fact that lifelong Republican minister Rogers helped push social progress is a touching reminder that we all need to work together to make the world a better place. Grade: A
Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Julian Dennison
Length: 119 minutes
Directed by: David Leitch
Ryan Reynolds returns as the wisecracking, foul-mouthed, hyper-violent Marvel superhero with an attitude, and adds some impressive occasional pathos to the story as he tries to protect an overweight mutant teen from multiple forces out to capture and harness him. Wildly fun but leave pre-teens at home. Grade: A