Editor’s note: One of Allison’s favorites from this year’s Sundance hits theaters this week, so please get hot and heavy with her original review, first posted on January 29, 2012.
What starts off as a seemingly innocent conversation between two strangers in a hotel restaurant quickly devolves into those same two strangers (played by Chris Messina and Marin Ireland) falling into bed together. It is not a new idea – two people, away from home, deciding to vacate their real lives for a night of anonymous pleasure – but director/screenwriter Matt Ross’ 28 Hotel Rooms begins to paint two characters who are a bit more interesting than they might seem at first blush, and who become increasingly so as their relationship twists and turns.
After their first night together, Ireland’s character is revealed to be a newlywed and, while Messina’s character does not seem thrown by that fact, it also makes you wonder why someone so new to her marriage would be willing to cheat on it. It is revealed that Ireland is less than comfortable with the indiscretion she just gave in to and one would think things would end here, but despite her tears and seeming regret, this does not end up being the last time these two reach out to each other.
As their affair continues from hotel room to hotel room and city to city, Messina works to get to know Ireland a bit better, while Ireland would rather keep their relationship purely physical. Their relationship remains fairly fun and playful, but as their affair spans the years, things go from flirtatious to serious to silent, with Ross never shying away from the quiet moments that naturally come up in any relationship. And despite the changes that occur in each of their lives (Ireland getting pregnant, Messina getting married), the two cannot seem to stay away from one another.
Ross never reveals his character’s names, working to keep the audience at bay as much as Ireland and Messina try and do with one another – at first. As the film’s title indicates, we never leave the different hotel rooms and Ross uses this limited viewpoint keeps us from knowing what these characters are like away from one another and in their “real lives,” confining us in the affair right alongside them.
28 Hotel Rooms is an intense and interesting look at what it means and feels like to be in an affair and, while the immediate chemistry between Messina and Ireland is palpable on screen, watching that initial fire give way to the possibility of something more keeps us willingly trapped in each room with them. The film is almost claustrophobic and, even when the audience knows the affair should end, each time Messina and Ireland are back on screen together, the chemistry and pull that they themselves cannot seem to break away from has us falling right back into bed with them as well.
The Upside: Stunning performances from Messina and Ireland make it possible to be limited to the confined space of twenty-eight different hotel rooms.
The Downside: If you are looking for a more standard narrative, you may be frustrated here as the story stays confined to the hotel rooms, never giving or allowing for outside perspective on either character.
On the Side: Small touches like Ireland’s changing hair color or Messina’s facial hair worked to help note the passage of time in a subtle, but affecting way.
28 Hotel Rooms opens in Los Angeles this Friday, November 9th, and will open in New York City at the Village East next Friday, November 16th. The film is currently available on all digital platforms.