Saturday, May 25, 2013

28 Hotel Rooms

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-

18 comments:

  1. Wait Matt Ross, isn't he the same guy from Big Love who is gay and wants to kill Bill Paxton?

    If he is, then I'm interested in seeing this film as I do like Chris Messina.

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    1. I've actually never seen Big Love, but that must be the same guy. I think you'd dig this movie overall. Messina is amazing in it.

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  2. Nice review. It looks interesting, and the concept is intriguing. Adding it to my queue.

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    1. Thanks man. It's definitely a worthy little flick. Hope you dig it!

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  3. Ah, I just looked at your A- for now, but that's gotten me really excited to finally watch this since it's been sitting in my instant queue for a few weeks now. I love Chris Messina (I was thrilled when I saw you mention that you wanted to do an In Character for him) so I am motivated to watch anything with him in it.

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    1. Nice! Messina and Ireland carry this movie, so if you're a fan of his, I can all but guarantee you'll enjoy the film. I was very surprised by it.

      Let me know when you've seen it!

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  4. Wow I almost want to write a counter review which explains how much I didn't like this film. I found it repetitive and lacking in emotional depth. Love reading your perspective on it Alex!

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    1. Ah bummer. But I can easily see how a viewer could go your way. In fact, based on the trailer, I was very afraid I might find it repetitive as well. Thankfully, it worked for me in every way. I thought it felt very real.

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  5. Just watched this and was pretty impressed. I'm not sure I would rate it as high as you but I did enjoy it and both actors really delivered some great performances.

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    1. I was honestly surprised by how much I like this one. But it was my kind of film, you know? Either way, glad you dug the acting in it!

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  6. Loved it because it reminds me of a relationship I had similar to the move

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    1. Oh really? I bet you have some interesting stories to tell...

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  7. Just watched this last night and I loved it. Brought up a lot of emotions for me and made me recall a relationship like this from the past.

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    1. Nice, so pleased that you liked it. It home for me in a lot of ways too. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  8. I thought this movie was stunningly well done. The woman is complex and fragile and the man is passionate and intense. Their evolution is very familiar to me. I have been in a similar relationship, even down to the actual wording in arguments and in love... As the married woman in this scenario I can tell you it is an extremely difficult place to be

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    1. Thanks so much for such an honest comment. I always love finding other fans of this film, and your personal connection to the story makes your comment that much more compelling.

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  9. Would you happen to know the story behind the room numbers? And why 28? I'm curious....

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    1. Hmmm, I don't actually. No idea why the director chose 28 as the magic number. Guess it had to be something, right?

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