The hotel relationship in Up in the Air cheaply and irritatingly ends with one affairee (Vera Farmiga) suddenly turning villainous and blithely rejecting the moony overtures of the other (George Clooney). No such mistake is made in 28 Hotel Rooms. In fact, the minimalist indie’s never-named couple (Marin Ireland and Chris Messina) swap sincere I-love-yous before the first act is up. We only see them, and we only see them when they see each other, namely when they’re in the same town. (A bit of a credibility strain, but fine.) The effect is to create a bubble that allows us, unlike them, to often forget that she’s married and he has a not-very-exciting-sounding girlfriend.
28 Hotel Rooms is being released unrated, and though casual nudity abounds, the focus isn’t the sex but the hang-out time. It’s no surprise that the acting is its best attribute: Writer-director Matt Ross, making his feature debut, is a longtime character actor who, among other things, periodically stole Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco as a humorless publishing house lackey. Ireland, a Tony nominee, and Messina, who seems to be in every fourth movie (he was last in Argo), have an instant-clickable chemistry, one predicated on a jokey awareness of the clichés of the situation in which they find themselves. Allergic to sincerity, they stick to a regiment: A smarmy attention whore, he talks non-stop and hungrily eats with his mouth open. (No one is a more interesting screen eater than Messina. See also: Julie & Julia.) Ireland mostly reacts, but she’s a fascinating listener, and the two make an ideal, instant-chemistry couple.
Even despite the characters’ awareness–and the film’s–it’s inevitable that this will lead to shouting matches and someone dropping the c-word. Like the great German film Everyone Else, 28 Hotel Rooms is (in part) about a couple who think they can protect themselves from hurt by not treating matters seriously or sincerely. Arguments tend to get deflected into jokes, but they’re really only putting real hurt off till later. A less wishy-washy ending and tighter organization would help, but then the main joy of Ross’ film is what’s caught in the moment. When Ireland and Messina are just spending time, the whole two-actors-in-a-series-of-rooms gimmick doesn’t feel like just a gimmick.