The few of you who long for a film that places you in the role of hapless witness to an obnoxious blossoming romance should love 28 Hotel Rooms. Writer-director Matt Ross gives us nothing except the bare necessities: a man (Chris Messina), a woman (Marin Ireland), and the titular number of hotel rooms for them to tryst, fight, and make often unfulfilled promises in. We’re given occupations (he’s a writer, she’s some sort of corporate executive), but no names, only the barest of contexts, and precious few images of the outside world.
The point, of course, is to simulate one of the distinct intoxications of passion: the impression that you and your lover are the only people in the world of consequence, and that you’ve created a private realm together no one else can access. In realizing this ambition, Ross has admittedly done subtle, often truthful work. Man and woman touch one another in realistically varied fashions; we can tell from their physical way of relating to one another the rough chronology of the relationship, from the erotically charged beginnings to the more emotionally confusing potential endings. And the couple’s proclamations of love and hate, as well the other various banalities they exchange in an effort to deal with their respective vulnerabilities, are convincing. 28 Hotel Rooms, refreshingly, is a film that appears to be informed by personal experience as opposed to other movies.
But it’s still a grueling work of sensory deprivation. You’re trapped with two people of a certain amount of privilege as they whine about what’s essentially a frivolous issue. Ross has made a film that epitomizes the phrase “First World Problem,” and, while the characters’ narcissism makes sense, there isn’t any hint of a larger, saner perspective. We’re supposed to take their self-pity at face value, an impression that’s emphasized by a grinding monotonous humorlessness.
Despite many misguided criticisms to the contrary, there’s nothing dramatically wrong with placing an unlikable character at the center of a narrative (if there was, Macbeth wouldn’t be a masterpiece), but dull characters, however, present an authentic problem. Ross withholds information from us in a bid for universality, but Messina and especially Ireland don’t have the stature to transcend the deliberate sparseness of the roles. At the end you may wonder why you just paid to watch two yuppies bicker when you could’ve seen that at the nearest P.F. Chang’s for free.