The tiny independent romance film, 28 Hotel Rooms, begins with two people going at it. Hard. They’re standing upright, pressed against a wall in an anonymous hotel room in an anonymous city. He tells her to lift her leg. She does. Cut to black. Cue credits. And we’re off and running.
The concept of 28 Hotel Room is so simple, it teeters dangerously at being too modest. Before every scene, a title card tells us what room we’re in. The scene plays out. Cut to black, title card, scene, repeat. With the exception of a few background extras, the couple on screen (played with physical fearlessness and emotional conviction by Marin Ireland and Chris Messina) are the only people in the film. We only see them in hotel rooms, and we never learn much about them, including their names. They met by chance in a hotel bar (twice) and soon form a relationship based on same-city sex. As in, when they both happen to be at the same place at the same time, maybe they’ll get together and hook up.
Although each scene’s time and place is never established (which I loved) we understand that years pass. She’s purposefully secretive about personal details, he only wants to know more. Many of the film’s early segments show the two exchanging in passionate lovemaking. They drink, order room service, sleep together, and that’s about it. But as the film progresses (and the patience of the two characters is tested), things settle down and real life catches up. We hear of his successful relationship and her happy marriage. We hear of his failing second book, and her thriving career.
There are arguments. Bad ones. They talk about leaving their spouses for one another. They talk about going out in public, holding hands, kissing and being happy. They scream and shout and storm out. But, with time, they always end up back in these rooms. And, again, although writer/director Matt Ross is hesitant with details, he always gives us just enough to hold interest.
So, in essence, 28 Hotel Rooms is an exercise. And a hazardous one at that. There’s a certain level of film school straightforwardness to the story that had me anxious throughout. I kept waiting for the film’s simple design to let me down. But Ross is more skilled than that. He knows that the film’s lack of outside distractions forces us to trust that Ireland and Messina can carry the film. And do they ever.
I’m sorry to say that although I’ve seen a number of films and television shows featuring Marin Ireland, I have no recollection of her talent. But after her fierce work in 28 Hotel Rooms, I won’t soon get her searing face out of my mind. Chris Messina, on the other hand, is one of my favorite working actors, and his performance here is a perfect case in point. He has the tougher of the two roles here – a sympathetic, charming man capable of great hostility. We have to care about him, but we have to know it’s okay to be pissed at him as well.
Matt Ross is a character actor perhaps best known as the dorky Luis Carruthers who hounds Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. 28 Hotel Rooms (which is now on Netflix Instant) is Ross’ first feature film as a director, and it is a work of sheer confidence and indie-scale bravado. With the strength of this film, I’d follow Ross anywhere.
At 82 minutes, 28 Hotel Rooms ends on a rather bittersweet note. Bitter because, given the films infectious structure, I felt as though it could’ve kept going and going. But sweet because, upon reflecting on its conclusion, I simply can’t imagine it ending any better. A-