Each year a handful of movies come along, movies I was completely unaware of, and they absolutely blow me away. It’s one of the real treats of the movie year – being blindsided by a high quality film. More often than not these are smaller independent pictures that unfortunately don’t get the same press or push offered to many lesser big budget films. The succinctly titled “Room” leads this year’s small but admired group of fantastic cinematic surprises.
Irish director Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room” is based on Emma Donoghue’s 2010 award-winning novel of the same name. Donoghue was hired to handle the screenplay of what is essentially two stories. The first half is an entrancing mystery thriller while the second half deals directly with the emotional aftermath. But the core thread that runs from start to finish and the true centerpiece of the picture is the relationship between a mother and her son.
Brie Larson plays a young woman named Joy. At age 17 she was kidnapped by a man we only know as “Old Nick” (Sean Bridgers). Repeatedly raped over a seven year period, she is kept locked up in a semi-furnished garden shed. During that time she became pregnant and gave birth to Jack (played with startling authenticity by Jacob Tremblay). The two call their 10 x 10 home ‘Room’. Everything in it has meaning to young Jack (he often starts the day saying good morning to their few possessions). They have a bed, sink, toilet, bathtub, TV, a makeshift kitchen, and a skylight. They are never allowed outside. This is literally 5 year-old Jack’s interpretation of the world.
The first half of the film shows us life inside Room. Over the years Joy has created a fabricated sense of normalcy for her son. Room is the world and TV represents make-believe. Joy does everything she can to protect Jack from the reality of their situation. But sensing she can’t take anymore, Joy begins breaking down the pretend walls she created to protect her son and puts together a risky plan of escape.
The second half of the picture deals with a young boy’s discovery of the real world and a mother coming to terms with a truly horrible ordeal. We are introduced to Joy’s parents who have split up in the seven years their daughter has been missing. William H. Macy plays Joy’s father who still can’t cope with his guilt and grief. Joan Allen is fabulous as Joy’s mom, a much more stabilizing and supportive force.
Much of the film is seen from Jack’s perspective. Abrahamson does a strong job capturing the amazement of hearing a telephone or seeing a skyline for the first time. We also witness the anxiety and fears of talking to other people or even walking down a set of stairs. Everything is new to Jack (when hearing a knock on the door for the first time he warns “The door is ticking.” Even the camera works to relay these feelings, often subtly dropping to Jack’s height to observe a conversation or move from one place to another.
Young Tremblay’s performance is astonishingly genuine and the amount of emotional detail he gives is beyond his young age. And his chemistry with Larson is warm, truthful, and without a hint of artifice. Larson proved herself to be a strong dramatic actress in 2013’s “Short Term 12”. Here we see her taking on a much more complicated and demanding role. Here she does work so rich with feeling and nuance. It’s a career defining performance.
“Room” plays with so many compelling ideas – child rearing, media manipulation, maternal bonding, post-traumatic stress, and isolation just to name a few. It pulls you through a range of emotions, breaking your heart multiple times along the way. But there is an underlying hope to “Room” that is even present during the most grim moments. And ultimately this is a story of the power and saving quality of love. It’s not always easy to watch, but that beautiful theme shines brightly through the film’s uncomfortable and harrowing exterior.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS
This is for me one of the year’s best films as I was just enthralled by it as I spent about half of the film in tears as I was a wreck for much of the film. It’s so fucking good and I hope there’s some accolades for Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay.
Without question one of the year’s best. It truly is an enthralling piece and when watching Larson and Tremblay you know you’re seeing something special. Am I wrong in think that Tremblay gives one of the greatest young child performances ever? The kid was 8 when filming. Unbelievable!
I found movie to be a little overhyped, Larson to be oberhyped a lot, in spite of being great but Tremblay delivered. That he keeps getting nominated in supp. categories is crap, considering he is more lead than Larson
I thought Larson was superb. She never goes too big and found every emotion she relayed felt earnest and completely authentic. As for the movie, I was mesmerized and moved. I don’t tear up at movies, at least not very often. This movie got me misty more than once and never by trickery or manipulation. I get what you’re saying about the nomination stuff. Tremblay is absolutely playing a lead role.
Have not seen this yet, but your score alone makes me want to check it out!
It’s beautifully heartbreaking Nostra. The story itself is mesmerizing but the two lead performances are simply some of the best acting you will see this year. Hope you get a chance to see it soon.
I love this movie, it’s one of my favorites of the year. I really hope both Tremblay and Larson (and the film itself) can snag some Oscar nominations. Though like Sati pointed out, Tremblay should be in the lead category. He’s in every moment of the film.
I don’t get the “Supporting” stuff. Like you said, Tremblay is in almost every frame. This is essentially his movie and much of it is told through his perspective. And if it doesn’t get some type of Oscar love I will be pretty ticked.
And don’t you love it when movies like this pop up during the year and catch you by surprise? Everyone knew Star Wars, The Avengers, and Jurassic World were coming. But in January I knew nothing about Room.
Very keen to see this, your review is in line with everything I’ve read about it from others…it seems like it will be a strong contender in the forthcoming awards. I’ve had the novel at home for a few years but have never read it (my wife has, though). I should probably wait until after the film now!
I am proudly with the majority this time and I love seeing this film get the attention. Larson is such an emotional force and Tremblay is astonishingly genuine. I’ll be honest, it got a little misty for me.
Wow, a real emotional heavy hitter then. I will be checking this out; saw a poster for it earlier today (as well as the trailer)…like pretty much everything else it’ll be out next month over here. I’ll be living in the cinema in January!
Anxious to get your thoughts. It does several interesting things and touches on some pretty powerful themes. Enjoy!
Oh wow – I knew nothing about this movie. I loved Brie Larson in Short Term 12 so I need to check this out. Great review. 🙂
Thank you! Larson was great in ST12. She may be even better here. Such a strong performance.
Would be cool to see her get more recognition
My fingers are crossed.
Nice job as always!
Thanks so much! Appreciated.
great review. hope to see this tomorrow!
Thanks man! Anxious to hear your thoughts. I think you’ll be well pleased.
saw it, really liked it. Loved how they really gave us most of the story from Jack’s perspective b/c it kept us also innocent just like him. Regarding the supporting actor vs. lead actor debate – children never win lead, so they are always automatically lobbied for in supporting so that they’ll have a chance… cases in point – Anna Paquin in The Piano (1993) and Tatum O’Neal in Paper Moon (1973).
As much as I liked this, I can’t say that it’s a movie I’m dying to watch again in the near future tho
Glad you liked it. Good point about the age thing. There are several goofy things about the Academy’s reasoning. You’ll often see them pass over a with the reasoning “they are young and will have more shots ahead of them”. It’s absurd but I have heard ‘experts’ say this multiple times. Same with the reasoning behind giving someone an Oscar who has never won but has a solid body of work. Neither are the rule, but both have been used before.
Yep. Thats what’s gonna happen this yr with Dicaprio I think. I didn’t love the revenant or his performance per se, but they want to reward him already…
It sounds like it, doesn’t it?
Yup. I think an oscar shouldn’t be an honorary award. It should be for the best actual role of the nominees
100% agree. Isn’t that why they have the lifetime achievement Oscars?
Yeah like newman who got one in 85 and then another ‘honorary’ in 86 for color of money 😉
Ugh! I’m so jealous of those who have already caught this! When can it be my turn?! 😉
I stopped reading about halfway in as I kind of want to go in to it knowing as little as possible. I know your blog is very good about keeping spoilers out, but even still I think i’ll return after I have seen this supposedly very moving picture. I can’t wait!
No worries man. I don’t blame you a bit. This is one of those film where truly the less you know the better. Knowing your perspectives I really think this one will connect with you. There is so much to appreciate.
Good review! I really liked this, although not quite as much as you.
Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson are amazing. I too was really impressed with the unique emotions Tremblay was able to showcase and I think Larson absolutely deserves an Oscar for this
Don’t you think Tremblay is astonishingly good for his age? The direction definitely factors in but Tremblay is so expressive.
He really is.
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Excellent review Keith, this movie is out where I am in the next week so I definitely plan to see it as it sounds so good.
You must! Very high on “Room”. That central mother/son relationship is fantastic.
Larson seems to be getting a lot of praise for her work.
Worthy praise for sure. I’m glad because I think she is incredibly talented. Did you see her work in Short Term 12? It too was phenomenal.
I haven’t actually seen her in anything yet. But from what I’ve heard, she’s very talented and I want to see it for myself. I recently saw Alicia Vikander in Uncle, and now I want to see more of her work.
Vikander had a big year this year. I need to go back and see Uncle.
I need to see Ex Machina and The Danish Girl.
She was also in The Man from UNCLE.
I loved her in that movie.
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