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  • Ben Turner

Shared Rooms **


Starring: Christopher Grant Pearson, Alec Manley Wilson, Alexander Neil Miller, Justin Xavier, Robert Werner, Daniel Lipshutz

Director: Rob Williams

Ensemble dramas are usually only one of two things. They can be intelligently woven thematic pieces whose multifarious strands weave together to make an interesting statement about its chosen topic. Or they can be lazy soap opera style ramblings from a writer incapable of writing a cohesive plot. Unfortunately, Shared Rooms is definitively the latter.

It is Christmas and Laslo (Pearson) and Cal (Wilson) are getting frustrated with their friends, who are all adopting children. But when Cal's gay nephew arrives on their doorstep needing somewhere to stay, they are forced to re-evaluate their lives. Elsewhere, Dylan (Werner) travels a lot, but when he returns home unexpectedly, he discovers that his housemate Julian (Lipshutz) has been renting out his bedroom online. Meanwhile, Sid (Xavier) arranges a hookup on Christmas Day, but gets more than he bargained for with Gray (Miller), with whom he feels an instant connection. Over the course of the festive period, all the characters unexpectedly share their homes in different ways than they had before. Which is about as cohesive as Shared Rooms gets.

Of the three storylines, there is one that stands up by itself. Laslo and Cal are the most strongly fleshed-out characters and their storyline is certainly the most engaging. As they are confronted with the prospect of parenthood, albeit with a teenager, they begin to understand the realities and responsibilities of family life. Add to that the sympathetic depiction of their young gay nephew and this plot is both touching and interesting. The other plots however are about as touching as a Heat magazine article about weight gain and as interesting as six hours staring at the Nasdaq.

Sid and Gray's storyline about finding love in a hookup has certainly been done before. Weekend and Theo & Hugo have both explored this in depth, with the connection slowly building after its intense beginnings. But it's difficult to see any kind of real spark between the two characters, who are self-satisfied and somewhat conceited. And the decision to play the majority of their scenes in the nude is clearly intended to be sensual, but instead comes across gratuitous and needless. And it's in the intense discussions between these two characters that we should really have had some of the film's most engaging dialogue, but instead we are subjected to its most clichéd worst, as the men discuss photography, addiction and the existence of God, but in an eye-rollingly shallow way.

As for Dylan and Julian... I guess for a film described as a "romcom", this storyline serves as the "com", but is painfully unrealistic. Julian is painted as a callous narcissist in his early scenes, but his later moments of tenderness don't appear as glimpses beneath this facade, but instead as contrary to his nature. The pair have about as much chemistry as a housecat and a vacuum cleaner. Dylan is whiny and annoying, while Julian's character is as flat as a pancake... Incidentally, there was clearly meant to be some sort of visual metaphor with pancakes in this storyline too, but goodness only knows what that was all about...

So while these three storylines stumble about, there are occasional attempts to link them together, before the inevitable moment they all end up in the same room at Cal and Laslo's "New Year's Steve Not Eve Party". Set in Los Angeles, it's somewhat perplexing that it was decided to set this film over the Christmas period, because it feels about as festive as a regional branch of Screw Fix. So while the film is clearly trying to use its setting to make a point about the nature of unconventional families, it actually ends up being distracting as you end up asking questions like "why is he working on Boxing Day?" and "do they not have a Christmas tree?" But when all of the characters are finally together for the stroke of midnight, a voiceover chips in with a desperate attempt for poignancy, claiming that these disparate characters with their scattered lives are somehow a family, which makes it all feel just a little bit awkward, like when someone you barely know refers to you as their best friend. Awkward, stunted and messy, Shared Rooms is bland froth with nothing to say.

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Manchester, UK

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