Note: This movie review is one of the films in my Top 5 Queer Holiday Film 2019
“Shared Rooms” is another queer holiday film from director/writer Rob Williams, the first being #2 on my list, “Make the Yuletide Gay”. While it might seem odd that I would place this film at my #1 spot, despite having a lower ranking and a few more flaws, the reality is that they both are at the top of my queer holiday film list — I had a tough time choosing! Plus, there’s something about how this ensemble film ends with everyone getting that “feel good” happy ending and I felt that alone gave “Shared Rooms” the extra boost for #1.
As noted above, “Shared Rooms” is a romantic, ensemble-style film set between Christmas and New Years. An independent film with lesser-known actors, this queer film falls in the same category with other holiday ensemble films such as “Love Actually.” Since the major studios have not jumped on board with an adequate gay holiday rom-com, this film fills in that gap. It might have a few script flaws and be a tad bit too jumpy, you’d have to be the Grinch himself if you cannot enjoy the joyous ending that brings everyone together.
The Storylines of “Shared Rooms”
The film and its events begin on Christmas Day itself, the film takes place over the following week leading up to a New Year’s Even bash where it all ties together. As it’s an ensemble film, the plot focuses on three main storylines:
Our first storyline revolves around Cal (Alec Manley Wilson) and Laslo (Christopher Grant Pearson), who are are our stable married couple and the ones who provide the crux of the connections that bring our other two storylines together. But it seems as if their queer “couple” friends are abandoning them as everyone else in their friend circle is having kids. They think they are safe from the “gay baby” craziness — that is until Zeke (Ryan Weldon) comes knocking on their doorstep! Zeke is the cut,e yet slightly awkward, teenager who’s just starting to find himself he was kicked by his parents after they discovered he is gay. Suddenly Cal and Laslo have to come to terms with having a “baby” of their own, which provides some great comedic one liners, but also some of the films truly heartfelt moments.
Our next storyline introduced is the most mysterious one, as we start of knowing almost nothing of these two strangers meeting for the first time. Sid (Justin Xavier) is an artist and recovered alcoholic who is alone and lonely on Christmas — so his tradition is to invite a guy over for a hookup. Gray (Alex Neil Miller) is that guy, but after they really click in the post-coital bliss of their encounter, he is invited to stay for longer. Their storyline is probably the most passionate onscreen romance of the film, but it’s also quite an interesting. Not only do we get to learn the backstory for both guys while they are discovering it for themselves, we also get to witness some really in depth philosophical discussions amid their (many!) make out and sex sessions over the course of the week. Except their budding relationship keeps getting interrupted as Gray receives multiple missed calls from an unknown caller, who doesn’t leave any voicemails. And Gray is quite vague in talking about his past or career.
Our third and last story line revolves around roommates Julian (Daniel Lipshutz) and Dylan (Robert Werner). Dylan initially has to leave town for work over the holidays, but that doesn’t mean Julian is home alone! Julian has been renting out Dylan’s room on LGBTQBnB.com and is currently playing host to Frank (David Vaughn), who is visiting from the East coast in search of someone he’s trying to find. Except drama — and lots of comedy! — ensues when Dylan’s work trip gets cancelled so he books it back home. Since Frank’s booking is non-refundable and they don’t have any sofas to sleep on, Julian and Dylan end up sharing a bed. And Dylan (and Dylan Jr!) is in love with his roommate Julian — though Julian seems oblivious. Until we later discover that Julian is hiding his own feelings for Dylan. Their comedy is more situational humor than comedic one-liners, but it will have you cracking a smile or more!
While each storyline can stand alone by itself, it’s how they all interconnect that make this ensemble film mesh. Julian is actually Cal & Laslo’s accountant. Laslo is Sid’s AA sponsor. Gray and Dylan are exes who are still great friends. Each of these connections are slowly introduced as the film progress, building the gradually interconnecting web until everything gets revealed at Cal & Laslo’s New Year’s Eve party. However, the strongest interconnection is arguably the fourth storyline as it actually explains why Frank’s character is in the film, even though we don’t even hear about it until nearly the end. Frank is looking for his brother who was kidnapped while at the carnival when they were kids. Having tracked him all the way across the country but unable to find his lost brother, he is actually quite miserable at the New Year’s Even party. Until he tells his story to Sid, who was only just entrusted with Gray’s darkest secrets — Gray was abducted and raised by a man who wasn’t his real father! How serendipitous that they’re both at the same party!
In the cheery ending, Cal and Laslo accept Zeke into their home and family. Sid and Gray have begun a new relationship. Julian and Dylan discover their mutual attraction. Frank finds his long lost brother, Gray. And even Zeke has someone to kiss at midnight. With everything wrapping up nicely, “Shared Rooms” ends on a positive, festive note that will have you smiling.
I’ve already hinted that “Shared Rooms” has a couple flaws, though I feel that the other elements come together and overcome them. The most obvious, and one that many of the negative reviews rely on, is that the overall flow of the film is QUITE jumpy. Rob Williams has chosen, both as the writer and director, to show us a short glimpse into each of the storyline’s individual progression — but only briefly as he jumps to the next one, sometimes leaving us hanging. The film would not work right if each storyline was told separately, in full, before bringing everyone together for the NYE party. But this decision creates additional confusion and sometimes is rather annoying because just as you’re about to learn something pivotal or new — we skip around. Thankfully, the entire film is not so sporadic as Rob gives us a couple longer scenes we can really get into.
The other issue people have with “Shared Rooms” is that many of the characters are cliche stereotypes, or have very little character arc. Sadly, I have to agree with this assessment. Yet I also realize that there is only so much you can do with an ensemble film of this manner in regards to character arcs. What is presented is sufficient enough to tell the story, but it could easily be fleshed out more and expanded upon — especially since this is a rather short film at 1h15m. Both of these issues related to Rob Williams, as both the writer and director, this has forced me to knock down both the Plot & Directing ratings half a point each.
The Good Bits
Just because a film has a few flaws, does not mean it’s a bad film. All of the other elements of “Shared Rooms” come together and overset, even overpower, the flaws noted above. Despite being an independent studio, the film is handled quite well cinematographically. Our musical choices and editing enhance and continue the flow of the script, while also providing an extra seasonal spirit to the film. The camera work is smooth and steady, adequately thought out rather than scattered. We even get a nice balance of full screen facial closeups during one of the film’s more heartfelt scenes that adds that extra oomph.
Most of the cast in “Shared Rooms” are lesser-known actors, which allows them to really dig into their character. Even when some of the character’s backstory or arc is a bit subpar, this cast is able to bring each person to life so that they are relatable and realistic. Are they all Oscar-winning performances? No — but they do not need to be in order to be one of the films strengths. I personally enjoyed the casting choices simply because of every character’s look — no one is A-List or “perfect”, but rather they are quirky, or awkward, and as such, much more relatable than any big named actor could bring to the film.
The film also draws much of its strength from the script itself. While it jumps around too much, the heart of each scene and separate storyline is strong enough to overpower the skipping. Once scene really stood out for me as excellent — the scene where Zeke tells Laslo about the “incident” that got him kicked out by his parents. We get to listen as Zeke slowly, and almost awkwardly, explain the innocence of discovering that your best friend is actually someone a bit more special — but having to keep that newfound romance hidden out of fear. But when you are discovered, as Zeke and his “friend” were, it can all come crashing down leaving a young teenager completely at a loss and feeling unwelcome by his own family. “Shared Rooms” might be a rom-come, but this seen is heartfelt. Plus, Ryan Weldon gives us an amazing performance.
But of course, we cannot ignore the comedy of “Shared Rooms” — as it IS a RomCom, after all! I don’t have enough words to quote or relate all of the great comedic scenes or even one-liners interspersed throughout the film, but just about every character has at least one good line. One of my favorites though is between Sid and Gray: “I’m a card carrying nudist.” “Where do you keep the card?” However, it’s hard to not laugh at a scene between Cal, Laslo, and Zeke where they discuss their underwear preferences and wearing jocks — out of preference for Laslo and for football for Zeke. Which gives us the great dialogue of:
Zeke: “I used to play football”
Cal: “What position?”
Zeke” Tight End”
Cal (to Laslo): “Oh honey, do you remember when you were a tight end?”
In conclusion, despite a few flaws, “Shared Rooms” is an excellent queer holiday film. It is comedic with a dash of drama, dealing with relevant gay issues we all have dealt with or can relate to, and shows us the importance of family, friends, and relationships. Add in the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, and this ensemble film is perfect to enjoy during the holidays!
Queer Relevance of “Shared Rooms”
Every single character in”Shared Rooms” is gay, merely by focusing solely on a circle of close gay friends. We also have some stereotypical aspects of gay/queer culture wrapped up in the plot: gay adoption, acceptance, being kicked out because of being gay, hooking up, the crush on your roommate, and more.
Plot & Script: 0.5 / 1.0
Casting & Acting: 1.0 / 1.0
Directing & Editing: 0.5 / 1.0
Cinematography: 1.0 / 1.0
My Opinion: 1.0 / 1.0
My Overall Rating = 4.0 / 5.0