Given the relative rarity of gay-centric cinema, I do my best to give gay films the benefit of the doubt. For example, an overabundance of ambition in a gay film that ultimately highlights the film’s lack of budget can be forgivable when one considers that a gay film (particularly a film about gay men) may not have been able to secure the funding to realize that ambition due to prejudices that still exist within the film industry and the world at large. That doesn’t, however, make me blind to the faults that a gay film has, and I’m sorry to say that Shared Rooms is so fundamentally flawed that its low budget cannot function as an excuse.
The “plot” of this film is actually a series of loosely interconnected short narratives. One is about a purposely childless gay couple who find themselves taking in their teenage gay nephew who has been recently kicked out by his mother. Another focuses on a pair of roommates who are forced to share a room together when one comes home early from a business trip to find that the other has rented out his room for the week. A third story looks in on the life of two men who hook up on Christmas and… just hang out naked a lot over the next couple days. There isn’t much reason for these narratives to pretend at interconnection when the only thing binding them is the film’s final scene in which all the principal characters attend the same New Year’s Eve party, so when the film bookends with a voice over about how these men have come together as family it rings more than a little hollow.
And that’s just a taste of how horrible the writing is in Shared Rooms. Writer-director Rob Williams seems to have mistaken cliché gay cattiness for wittily comic dialogue, so just about every character is a mouthpiece for quickfire sexual innuendo that neither comes across as shocking or particularly funny. This may be an attempt to disguise how stiff the dialogue is, but it fails to distract from repetitive lines and conversations that lack natural or logical flow. The acting doesn’t help matters, with amateur performances across the board who either cannot elevate the material or have been directed not to.
But even leaving aside the poor dialogue, the plotting itself is often suspect, throwing out new details and twists without any sense of build-up or tension. For example, the roommate plot seems awkward because these two men, while gay, don’t appear to have any sexual interest in one another. Yet when one of them suddenly discloses halfway through the film that he has been in love with his roommate for a long time, it comes out of nowhere because the dialogue and performance never hinted at those emotions, and it lacks impact because the film doesn’t even take a beat to let this new information sink in. There are a couple more examples of how the film disregards pacing and communication with the audience, but you get the idea. And in a film that only runs 75 minutes, even a few such instances comprise a sizable portion of the runtime.
It’s tempting to go easy on Shared Rooms because of its obviously cheap production values and sympathetic portrayal of an ousted gay kid, but on a technical and artistic level it’s just pathetically bad. It shoots for comedy and falls horrendously flat. It reaches for touching but can’t even muster a basic emotional response. The film fails to engage because it feels like the cinematic equivalent of a high school drama club’s original production, only with more gratuitous nudity. It’s not even unintentionally funny; it’s just a bore.