LITTLE ROCK — Like Michael Winterbottom’s far more sexually explicit Nine Songs, Matt Ross’ 28 Hotel Rooms is a photorealistic depiction of a certain kind of curated human experience - it’s very much like eavesdropping on the private conversations between two privileged narcissists combating ennui through sex.
It’s well-made entertainment for a certain kind of rarefied taste - a movie meant to be consumed by a self-defined cognoscente. You can respond to it as a play of lights and sound; you can admire the actors’ commitment to their characters and the way Ross uses the streamlined textures and rented glamour of the American luxury hotel to suggest a expense account-cushioned sanctuary from the real world.
And while Chris Messina has probably played this role a few too many times before, it’s probably a mistake to confuse him with the smirking idiot writer he plays here. His performance is unnervingly accurate and self-deprecating.
But it’s also a severely delimited movie - a purposefully small scale affair wherein one senses the observance of rules. It’s almost like it was constructed for some kind of 48 Hour Film Festival sort of competition - you have two characters, Man and Woman, a best-selling novelist and corporate number-cruncher, respectively, and the wobbly arc of a love affair conducted over a number of years within the confines of the rooms referenced in the title. So what happens behind closed doors?
Well, lots of acting - at least some of it apparently improvised, as Chris Messina and Marin Ireland get naked (emotionally and otherwise) with each other. After connecting in a hotel bar, they embark on what at first seems to be a no-fault, grown-up dalliance. He leaves his number, but she won’t call him. So she says.
Tempus fugit - though exactly how long the intervals are left vague. They meet whenever they can make their schedules work. They each become involved with off-screen people, they bicker, they sob - and there’s one highly interesting moment where, after the novelist’s second book tanks, their masks slip a bit and they bare their perfect yuppie teeth. But then,that moment’s gone, and with it the promise of a deeply interesting film.
Yet I object more to the circumscribed idea of the movie than anything in its execution - while in theory I have a difficult time caring about giggling yuppies ruthlessly running up expense account tabs at L’Ermitage Beverly Hills (where the careful shopper might find a room for $450 a night), the actors are good enough that we perceive them as more than preening types.
That doesn’t mean the movie doesn’t get many things right - even the banality of the couple’s various declarations and evasions sound like conversations you’ve overheard. And one of the movie’s points is that when you are cocooned with your lover, intoxicated and infatuated, you don’t care much about the rest of the world - and what the people you presumably care more about don’t know doesn’t hurt them.
The heart wants what it wants. Morality is for saps.
28 Hotel Rooms 87
Chris Messina, Marin Ireland
MovieStyle, Pages 30 on 11/23/2012