Bedrooms and Hallways is a bisexual romcom that is hindered by binary language. “Gay” Leo (Kevin McKidd) seduces “straight” Brendan (James Purefoy) at a men’s retreat only to be “turned hetero” himself by Brendan’s ex-girlfriend Sally (Jennifer Ehle). No one utters the word “bisexual.”
Director Rose Toche coaxes fine performances from her cast. Still none of the romantic pairings are developed enough to invest in. The 92-minute film is so stuffed with side characters that Sally isn’t properly introduced till an hour in. I had to re-watch the film to figure out who she was and why she was there. Choppy editing suggests some exposition was left on the cutting room floor.
I’ve attempted to condense the plot in this spoiler filled recap.
Act One: Male Bonding
Scene One: Leo’s Birthday Party
SASSY GAY FLATMATE: Happy 30th birthday! We’ve decided to torture you with a surprise party!
LEO (A carpenter): My exes are here! I’m going to hide in my bedroom.
Scene Two: A Men’s Retreat
GROUP LEADER: Meet our newest member. Leo, introduce yourself.
LEO: Well I…
GROUP LEADER: Take the honesty stone and share your feelings.
LEO: Why did we skip past my introduction? It would have established my character.
ANGRY GUY: I HATE MY FATHER! (Angry guy rants for ten minutes.)
BRENDAN (A café owner): I’m…
GROUP LEADER: No time to introduce you Brendan. We gave your screen time to the Angry Guy, even though he’s a tertiary character. Next.
LEO: I’m attracted to Brendan. Even though he’s straight.
BRENDAN: I’m flattered.
Act Two: Curiosity
Scene Three: Men’s Camping Trip
(The men dance around a fire and beat drums.)
AWKWARD GUY: Talking to Leo has made me realize I’m curious.
BRENDAN: Back off. He’s mine!
LEO: I thought you were straight.
BRENDAN: Don’t make assumptions. I’m feeling curious myself.
Scene Four: Leo’s Apartment
(Cut to Brendan and Leo making out.)
LEO: The editing in this film is atrocious. How did we get here? Who are you really?
BRENDAN: I’m your hot love interest. That’s all you need to know.
(Cut to Brendan making breakfast and eating a sausage suggestively.)
LEO: A shame the film didn’t give us a proper love scene after all that buildup.
SASSY GAY FLATMATE: I’ll provide the eye candy. I have a subplot where I have kinky sex with Hugo Weaving.
Act Three: Surprise
Leo’s heterosexual endeavor in the last quarter of the film is key to the goings on, and, unfortunately, is not convincing for a moment.Arthur Lazere, Culture Vulture
Scene Five: Leo’s Apartment
SALLY: Hello. I’m looking for Brendan. I’m his co-worker and ex-girlfriend.
LEO: I know you. We dated in high school! Why are you arriving so late in the story?
SALLY: I was in the background of an earlier scene. The film didn’t bother introducing me.
(Cut to Sally and Leo making out.)
LEO: Why am I cheating on Brendan with a woman I’ve shared less than 10 minutes of screen time with?
Scene Six: Sally and Brendan’s Café
LEO: Sally, I’m dating Brendan.
BRENDAN: Why would you out me in public?
LEO: I had to! She’s my best friend!
BRENDAN: Since when?
SALLY: I wish you’d been honest with me Brendan.
BRENDAN: Why? We broke up. How is this film suddenly about you?
(Flash forward to)
Scene Seven: Leo’s Birthday Party
BRENDAN: Bottoming’s great. It’s helped me understand women.
AWKWARD GUY: Is that why you went back to Sally and broke Leo’s heart? I oughta beat you up!
(Brendan punches Awkward Guy. Then takes him out for drinks.)
SALLY: Still hiding in your bedroom? Come dance with me Leo. (They dance. Then make out.)
LEO: I guess Sally turned me hetero.
SASSY GAY FLATMATE: Oh, come now. Why on earth can’t you just say the word bisexual? Or pansexual? Or a Kinsey 5? Or sexually fluid? Or…
The film… imagines a brave new world in which the distinctions between gay and straight have begun to dissolve…. [but] loses its nerve and turns into a shallow sitcom.Stephen Holden, New York Times, 1999
There’s more to this film than Leo’s journey. I left out Hugo Weaving’s kinky realtor, Harriet Walter’s snarky therapist, Leo’s brother, Leo’s other flatmate, more hijinks for Simon Callow’s men’s group, a shadow puppet and two dream sequences. They get screen time that could be better spent fleshing out the central love triangle.
Kevin McKidd’s Leo endears despite his habit of blurting out secrets in public. James Purefoy’s Brendan smolders but I couldn’t tell you much about him. I’d like to see him get a moment with the “honesty” stone at that first retreat. Jennifer Ehle is a skilled actress but I’ve no investment in Sally. If she hadn’t barged into Leo’s apartment, for barely explained reasons, he might still be with Brendan. A conversation between Leo and Sally in the opening scene could have established their connection. As it is, the relationship feels like a cruel bait and switch.
Am I overthinking this? The film makes me laugh, as comedies are meant to. It explores sexual fluidity even if the characters lack the words to discuss it. And Hugo Weaving handcuffs Tom Hollander to a bed. So there’s a lot going for it. Have you seen Bedrooms and Hallways? What are your thoughts?
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