You've seen films like The Good Hearts Club before, though I suppose I could probably say you probably haven't seen one that takes place in an escape room. Written and directed by William F. Reed, The Good Hearts Club brings together a lovable loner, a group of misfits and weirdos, and a seemingly impossible mission and serves up a story that is familiar yet engaging because The Good Hearts Club is genuinely a good-hearted motion picture.
The Good Hearts Club is also the kind of indie film I struggle with once I sit down to write my review as I bounce between my discerning critical hat and my cheerleading cineaste hat that screams "Go, Man, Go!"
Matt (Tyler Mann) is the lovable loner. He shows up to Escape Room Austin seeking nothing more than a simple job, but he fairly quickly learns that he finds that rare place where he might actually fit in amongst the outfit's weirdos, misfits, and gamers. Unfortunately for Matt, Escape Room Austin is a small "mom and pop" outfit and a new corporate-owned Escape Room has arrived in town that has pretty much guaranteed that Escape Room Austin is on the way out.
Matt doesn't give up easily. As he figures out he belongs in this tight-knit group, he unites this oufit in an effort to save Escape Room Austin and to stop the new corporate giant from taking over the town.
Admit it. You're sitting there shaking your head thinking to yourself "I've seen that story before."
Yep, you have. I have. We all have. Heck, I'm pretty sure William F. Reed has.
In sending me the film for review, Reed made note that he'd been told the film was a cross between a John Hughes film and a Kevin Smith film. I initially laughed, but as I watched the film I couldn't help but agree. Reed has intentionally given us a rather diverse motley crew, not the band as that would be crue, and he's persistently leaned the film into the whole idea of "Keep Austin Weird." Indeed, there's weirdness in abundance here yet nearly all of these characters are the sort of lovably weird folks that you can't help but adore even if I would say characters are a bit lightly developed here.
The truth is that for the most part you already know how The Good Hearts Club is going to unfold. The question is "Does Reed give us enough of an engaging journey to make it worth the watch?"
The answer is yes.
While Reed has most certainly borrowed from other feel-good flicks, he's borrowed well and The Good Hearts Club is enjoyable from beginning to end. Mann is a joy as Matt, possessing both that sense of wary frazzle that makes you understand his resistance to bonding with this crew and the inherent likability that makes it completely believable, and expected, when he does bond with the crew. He reminds me a bit of early Justin Long with a bit of that nerdy charisma.
While most of the narrative centers around Matt, The Good Hearts Club is a definite ensemble film and it's a strong ensemble that seems to be fully in-tune with Reed's vision for the film. Rachel DeRouen, who happens to be married to Mann in real-life, is one of the film's highlights as Riley and the screen definitely lights up when she enters the scene. Tiara Alese Bynum also shines, though I feel a wee bit guilty singling anyone out since this truly is a strong indie ensemble.
Are there improvements that could be made? Of course. This is a low-budget indei and there are times it's obviously a low-budget indie. The narrative doesn't quite gel together as much as I'd like and I'd dare say a handful of budget deficits, including the lack of a completed escape room toward film's end, are likely due to budget issues more than "Hey, I didn't think of that."
There's only so much you can do in the world of microcinema and Reed has accomplished quite a bit with very little.
While The Good Hearts Club may not tell a story that hasn't been told before, the story it does tell is told with inspiration, a good heart, more than a little joy, and quite a bit of fun along the way. I'll take a flawed motion picture with a good heart over your usual Hollywood drivel anyday.
Can this lovable band of misfits save Escape Room Austin from a painful corporate demise?
You already know the answer, but by giving us characters we care about and making us smile along the way William F. Reed has made The Good Hearts Club an indie flick worth watching.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic