dir. Lenny Abrahamson
written by: Emma Donoghue
starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H Macy, Sean Bridgers
3.25 out of 4 stars
Brie Larson is a marvelous young talent. Just turned 26-years-old, Larson has starred in blockbusters, television, and indie, and she impresses on every turn. Providing the acting highlight of Trainwreck, she began 2015 with exceptional notices. Now she has delivered one of her most highly regarded and likely widest seen performance in Room.
Based on Emma Donoghue’s novel, Room is a tense piece about a captive mother and son. Jack, just turned five, has never known anything outside Room. Born to Joy (“Ma”) after being impregnated by Old Nick, the man who has kept her as his sex slave for seven years, Ma keeps Jack safe and occupied every day as his sole companion. Never knowing anything outside of his four walls, Ma reveals the whole world outside their confines in order to prepare Jack for their great escape from captivity. Told from Jack’s point of view, Room traverses the mind of a child who has never known another kid, seen a tree before, or interacted with anyone besides Ma (except for his rapist father who he fearfully avoids). Finally making their escape, Jack enters a world about which he knows nothing, and we watch him grow accustomed to his new surroundings.
Adapting her own novel, Donoghue narrows the focus of her more expansive story. Hitting on the emotional heavyweight portions of a story from an albeit intelligent child’s perspective, she manages to draw out the adult turmoil while maintain the childhood innocence. Luckily, she maintains the tension of her source and adds significantly to the terror in the early portions of the book, audience unsure of how the duo will survive their entrapment. A tad excessive with the voiceover, though that maintains the theme of the book, Donoghue focuses her story development entirely for the child’s perspective.
This could have been a deterrent, and it was for some, but with a youth performance as genuine as Jacob Tremblay’s, seeing him inhabit Jack was a marvel of filmmaking. Tantrums exploded with realistic fury, and his utter confusion about the world, both fearful and sometimes joyous, felt as if the actor had been held in near solitude to prepare for this role. Though spectacular throughout, Jack’s preparation to escape proved Tremblay’s most remarkable abilities. Exhibiting hysterics realistic to his situation, one feels for the emotional turmoil of the young boy being thrown into this dangerous escape.
The underused Joan Allen appears as Joy’s mother with her standard exceptionalism. Not given nearly enough to chew on, Allen portrays a mother long suffering and now dealing with the reappearance of her missing daughter. Her verbal battles with Joy highlight her emotional brilliance in all of her work. Joy’s other parents, father Robert (William H Macy) and Leo (Tom McCamus) have even further limited roles, with Macy as barely a cameo. McCamus provides particular heart to a more minor character, providing realistic laughs to his step-grandfather role that could easily be forgotten.
Back to Larson, Brie Larson feels all the feelings as the troubled mother adjusting back to real life, accepting her lost years, and migrating her son out of his Room filled world. She yells a lot, and her transition is troubled, but her performance is measured. Substantial props for her control in the primetime interview she is subjected to for her son’s benefit. Responding to the invasive questions of a meddling television host, Ma is resolute and overwhelmed with fierce eyes on the verge of tears. Larson combined with Tremblay create one of the most realistic mother/son relationships from the most obscure of situations.
Director Lenny Abrahamson handles his actors splendidly. Approaching the story with a far more humanistic standpoint than his previous film Frank, he pulls the heartstrings of the family reuniting and the terror of the life they had been living. The story is aided stylistically by Danny Cohen, cinematographer of choice for Tom Hooper. Capturing the claustrophobia of Room and the newly experienced spacious landscapes of the real world, the film was beautifully shot.
Enhancing upon her novel, Donoghue brings the child development and claustrophobic aura of the source with family drama without the melodrama. A fantastic cast headlined by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay in outstanding roles produced a notable work with a very original feel. Law & Order SVU wishes they had this much cohesion.