Title: 28 Hotel Rooms
Directed By: Matt Ross
Starring: Chris Messina, Marin Ireland
How many times have you come out of a romance movie heartbroken that you don’t have a relationship similar to the one on screen only to have to keep reminding yourself that it’s just a movie and things don’t really happen like that? Matt Ross defies that tacky mainstream norm with a brutally honest presentation of a love affair that while not as colorful and enjoyable, gives you loads more to think about.
While traveling for business, a man (Chris Messina) and a woman (Marin Ireland) have a one-night stand. Soon thereafter, their business travels have them cross paths again and, well, their relationship is no longer a one-night stand. Even with a girlfriend and husband, the pair opts to continue the affair, meeting in different cities and different hotel rooms to indulge in their romance. As time goes by, the arrangement continues, and so do their lives outside the rooms. Despite initial intentions to keep the two worlds separate, after endless hours of discussing their jobs, past sexual experiences, personal preferences and more, the divide blurs forcing them to pit their passionate affair against their somewhat more honest relationships at home.
When catching “28 Hotel Rooms,” you should have a sense of what you’re in for. No, you don’t need a play-by-play spoiling the experience, but it is a unique experience and while it’s commendable, it also runs the risk of disappointing those expecting a more standard narrative. Messina, Ireland and their hotel rooms are the entire film. It’s segmented by hotel room and while each scene differs in terms of the topic of conversation and the state of their relationship, it entirely consists of one-on-one chats – and other activities.
First time feature writer-director Matt Ross knows what kind of material he has and fully commits. “28 Hotel Rooms” is a movie for the stars and Ross appropriately lets them command it. We’ve got a number of lengthy stagnant shots, some of which are even slightly obscured in a very natural way, putting the spotlight on Messina and Ireland, and Messina and Ireland alone.
A little more exposition would have been nice to get a better sense of who they are, where they come from and why they fell for each other to begin with, but, at the same time, that’s what makes “28 Hotel Rooms” stand out. Messina and Ireland are loaded up with dialogue, yet it never feels expository. The man and woman’s relationship develops in a wholly natural manner and, oddly enough, the different phases feel more defined for their lack of clarity. Rather than making one room the happy room, dedicating the next to showing their relationship start to crack and then another to a total meltdown, each room has a mixture of each, which is wildly appropriate considering both characters have true feelings for each other, but are also good people with a firm understanding of what they’re doing to their loved ones. Nobody ever says, “This is good,” and “This is bad.” In fact, even with all the chatter, more is conveyed in their silence, when you get the chance to assess their feelings.
And the only reason the viewer is able to do that is because both Messina and Ireland totally own their characters. They always have a firm understanding of where they are at any given moment, giving the movie a sensible chain of events, but also never overdoing it, giving the viewer a need to get involved and, in turn, have a stake in their relationship.
The material can get a little dreary and often feels a bit like an experiment, especially for someone who might not be on board for this type of dramatic romance, but if you’re open to trying something new and something that requires a degree of effort from the viewer, “28 Hotel Rooms” makes for an unusually unique and immersive piece of cinema.