A comedy about the mutability of sexual identity in the contemporary relationships arena, “Bedrooms & Hallways” represents a substantial leap forward in terms of filmmaking craft, style and commercial viability for U.S. director Rose Troche from her 1994 debut, “Go Fish.” While the pace is not as zippy nor the laugh quota quite as high as could be hoped for, the London-set film’s appealingly drawn characters and accomplished cast keep it buoyant and entertaining. Despite being largely centered on gay male characters, the story’s sexual inclusiveness should help sell it to hip, urban audiences.
Disconsolately single Leo (Kevin McKidd) has surrendered to disillusionment and begun to opt out of a social life, despite the urgings of his campy, fashion-victim flatmate Darren (Tom Hollander) and his bosom-buddy neighbor Angie (Julie Graham). But a beacon appears on the bleak romantic horizon when his friend Adam (Christopher Fulford) convinces him to join a men’s therapy group run by New Age guru Keith (Simon Callow). There he meets seemingly straight Irishman Brendan (James Purefoy), whose dark good looks and mellifluous voice give him something to swoon over.
When handed the “honesty stone” during a session, Leo comes clean about his sexuality and his attraction to Brendan. On the rebound from a long relationship with his business partner Sally (Jennifer Ehle), Brendan is flattered and not unintrigued. Following a wild-man weekend with the group, his resistance to the idea crumbles and the two men become an item.
Having set up the comedy basically as a boy-meets-boy affair, scripter Robert Farrar then complicates the scenario by reacquainting high school sweethearts Leo and Sally. Trading in notions of sexual fluidity, the film campaigns for the pursuit of passion, pleasure and affection wherever they can be found, and while both Brendan and Leo seem to slip easily between gay and straight liaisons, the nonrestrictive, entirely impermanent nature of their choices means gay audiences are unlikely to feel betrayed.
Sharing the same fresh, unencumbered take on gay sexuality as Troche’s no-budget lesbian comedy, “Go Fish,” the new feature extends its embrace by portraying heterosexual unions with equal warmth.The top-drawer cast ably distracts from the comparative slump in the script that sets in after the comedy’s breezy opening stretch. In the film’s closest equivalents of romantic leads, McKidd (the doomed Tommy in “Trainspotting”) and Purefoy make a highly personable pair; Ehle’s natural charm and expansiveness make her a pleasure to watch; Callow and Harriet Walter clearly are having a ball as characters that seem a little American in conception and amusingly improbable in a London context; and Graham is delightful as the sassy confidante-next-door.
But best of all is Hollander. Simultaneously prim and trampy in his sex scenes and hilariously outfitted in loud threads and Spice Girl shoes, the actor’s tart delivery and impish presence make one wish there were a whole lot more of him to spark up the comic low points.
While “Go Fish” relied more on the zeitgeist of the characters and community it depicted than on technique, Troche this time has delivered a glossy, slickly packaged entertainment that bares little resemblance to the look of most London-set films. In this, she is backed by lenser Ashley Rowe’s warmly lit, very mobile camerawork, production designer Richard Bridgland’s colorful, elegant sets and Annie Symons’ often flamboyant costumes.