“A man walks into a bar,” and the joke writes itself. THE OAK ROOM, adapted from the play of the same name, uses all tropes that came before it to create a story-within-a-story that, despite its best efforts, still feels too slow at a 90-minute runtime.

The film opens with Steve (RJ Mitte) returning to his father’s friend Paul (Peter Outerbridge)’s bar – a frigid welcome, given that Steve left years earlier without returning for his father’s funeral, or to pay any of the debts he owed. Though Paul is unwilling to hand over Steve’s father’s ashes, Steve begins to tell him a story in exchange: one that takes place in a very similar bar, in a very similar storm.

RJ Mitte in THE OAK ROOM

THE OAK ROOM is a slow burn, and dialogue-heavy from its theatre origins. Each actor is given plenty of room to showcase their skills, and for actors like Mitte, who hasn’t been given what he’s due post-Breaking Bad, it’s easy to soak up every word, no matter how trite. Everything feels larger than life and small at the same time, inventive and reminiscent of what’s been done before.

Story after story follows Steve’s original tale to Paul, with each one adding more to the larger narrative. There are plot points that satisfyingly tie back into everything we’ve learned already, but there are also points that just seem dramatic for the sake of drama. Not every question you have will be answered, and I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing.

THE OAK ROOM is a story about stories, but when it gets self-referential, it just isn’t enough to stand by itself. Viewers who are willing to watch men one-up each other in bar after bar may be satisfied, but that’s not something I have to look to movies to find.
THE OAK ROOM is currently available to stream Video on Demand.

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