AWARD THIS! 2023 NOMINEE! Director-writer William F. Reed’s feel-good Austin film The Good Hearts Club puts a spiffy Gen-Z shine on a beloved, familiar story. Matt (Tyler Mann) is a loner struggling with nearly every aspect of life when he is hired to work at the independently owned Escape Room Austin. He arrives on his first day to the high-energy whirlwind of activities and ceremonies of a tight-knit group of misfits, weirdos, and gamers.
In short order, Matt’s oriented and trained to run the escape room games from the control panel. To his surprise, he fits right into the merry pirate band of theatrical and technical geeks and quickly becomes a part of the rhythm of their work and play. From here, Matt’s life starts to take a dramatic turn for the better. He meets a woman who seems interested in him, and his new friendships take the edge off his isolated lifestyle. Soon enough, Matt is initiated as more than just a co-worker.
The Good Hearts Club would be a short film if that were all that happened. But it runs at feature-length, so we need a dark cloud to put a damper on Matt’s newfound joy. It comes in the form of news from the owner, Terry (Matt Arbo), that Escape Room Austin is closing. Terry owes money to his ex-wife, Karen (Jane Schwartz), and will have to close Escape Room Austin without an infusion of cash large enough to buy her out. The gang reels from this news, but Matt sees an opportunity to build the ultimate escape room and win the Best of Austin prize from the local independent newspaper.
“…Matt sees an opportunity to build the ultimate escape room and win the Best of Austin…”
Cue the frantic design/build montage as Escape Room Austin goes all-in to create the ultimate experience for their fans. This is where the comfortable but venerable movie trope kicks in as a plucky band of under-resourced, drastically outmatched bohemians takes on a well-organized, heavily funded corporation to preserve something worth saving. It’s Billy Jack without the martial arts (or any number of other films. My favorite is the 1983 screwball comedy Get Crazy). Will our family of friends win the contest and save the day? Will Matt keep his new social group and save his burgeoning romantic relationship? Will Terry accept Karen’s new life with her girlfriend and come to terms with how to move forward?
If a city is going to be an integral part of your Indie film, there’s no better choice than Austin. Reed infuses every minute of The Good Hearts Club with Austin flavor, transforming a good experience into a great one. He also captures a Clerks vibe with his irreverent, relatable slacker characters. They’re lovable, and the cast brings that warmth out perfectly. The timely generational aspect shines through in various social and sexual orientations of the characters. Teressa (Darby Wirt) is gay. Matt considers himself pansexual without applying the label. There’s a lot of fluidity and casual acceptance of their identities, and it’s just not a big deal, which is incredibly refreshing.
If there’s a nit to pick, it’s that we never really see the details of the ultimate escape room. Nerds and geeks of all stripes would love to know what that looks like, and it’s disappointing that we get whiteboard design sessions and yard-sale props but never know what theatrical magic quest the room contains. It’s a MacGuffin, like a glowing object in a briefcase. We don’t need to see it, but that would have been fun.
The Good Hearts Club does what all good films should aspire to do: give us characters we care about in situations where we pull for them to overcome the odds. Reed proves that this can be done within the constraints of a lower-budget production. It’s a lesson many Indie filmmakers still haven’t internalized. This film keeps Austin weird and will make your day.
The Good Hearts Club is a 2023 Award This! Indie Romance nominee.
"…keeps Austin weird and will make your day."