In The Trouble with Romance, four couples inhabit four rooms in the same hotel on a single evening; most arrive horny and hopeful, but ham-fisted attempts at foreplay only manage to arouse disillusioned conversation about their respective relationship’s dysfunction. Even disregarding the copious and, in retrospect, wildly superior antecedents to this interlocking inn-vignette exercise (Neil Simon’s now-dowdy “Suite” plays appear relatively insightful by comparison, while the bitterly dated Four Rooms seems at least entertaining), this is a film that was predestined for toxicity from the moment of conception. The frequent attempts at humor, nearly all of which unsurprisingly transpire in the bathroom, have been wrung clean of any joy the cast or crew might have experienced while realizing them. A woman who confronts an imaginary boyfriend in the shower as a one-night stand waits patiently outside the door strikes us as a disingenuous, garden-variety kook; a young man who takes a ceremonious shit on his girlfriend’s photo directly post-breakup fills us with queasy pity.
Actorly diarrhea and writerly constipation are the frequent bane of subpar indie flicks, but in Trouble with Romance these flaws are almost instructively exacerbated, like an inverted Syd Field handbook on amateurisms to avoid. The film even discourages camp appreciation by unnecessarily wrapping up each act with a hairpin turn into “serious” love-speak about commitment and fidelity, complete with a bromide capper. In the most wincing example, a wife plots a ménage-a-trois with her husband’s office temp lover, only to turn awkwardly vindictive, profess knowledge of the brief affair and calmly announce, “I want a divorce.” These characters aren’t even complex enough to be stock types: They’re like partially overheard sketches, inaccurately transcribed while eavesdropping on a junior college screenwriting course. I’m fairly certain I even sniffed a “hooker with a heart of gold” cavalierly wrenched into the movie’s final tale, but the dialogue at that point became hard to discern over my repeated, incredulous ejaculations of “Oh my god…”