Room

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UK Release Date 15th January 2016
Director Lenny Abrahamson
Starring Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay
Runtime 118 minutes
Certificate 15
Reviewer Jo
Reviewed 28th January 2016

Ah Room. The film that eluded me not once, not twice but thrice over the course of the LFF 2015. To say I have been looking forward to seeing it is an understatement, how could you not? Glowing reviews, nominations a go go (although this year it may be worse to GET nominated by one of those misogynistic, racist, bourgeois Oscars pigs). So say some. So finally I made room for Room (sorry) and indeed I was not disappointed, it’s a hugely emotional and impacting movie. By no means is it a perfect movie but it is a great one and let me tell you, the fact that Tremblay has not been nominated by aforementioned bourgeois pigs just goes to show there us no justice in the (Holly) world. But we all knew that anyway didn’t we? Now let’s move away from taking the piss out of the Oscars and concentrate on Room, after all there is PLENTY of time for Oscars backlash in the next couple of months. 

In the last decade or so there have been a disturbing amount of young women being discovered after being held hostage by their male captors in their basements and sheds and raped continuously, having children, treated as slaves, for many years. The bestselling novel by Emma Donoghue on which Room the movie is based is written from the viewpoint of seven-year-old Jack, Donoghue wrote the book after learning about Felix, the little boy in the Fritzl case. In Lenny Abraham’s Room, Jack’s imagination is brought to life through the acting skills of Tremblay. We aren’t given props of imagination (like in The Lovely Bones) but we are given the tools to imagine for ourselves. 

Brie Larson turns in a stellar performance as a girl/woman only known as ‘Ma’. We quickly understand that a man is holding her hostage in a room and that she has had a child by him, a five-year-old called Jack. Ma and Jack live together in room where the daily rituals they engage in no doubt stop them from going mad altogether and Ma does her best to protect Jack from the real horror of their situation. Ma seizes an opportunity and makes for an audacious escape and suddenly Ma and Jack are out in the real world, a world that comes with problems and prisons of a different kind. 

The crowning glories in Room are the performances. Lenny Abrahamson is clearly a highly skilled actor's director and he has cast and directed his two leads in a spectacular fashion. Brie Larsson’s portrayal fragile and mentally unstable Ma is heart wrenching. To be able to convey the turmoil of the utter despair of being held hostage coupled with the motherly duty of trying to present an extraordinary situation, as commonplace is laudable. When freed from the prison Larsson’s skilful execution continues, a torturous scene at the dinner table as the family try to play happy families but Ma’s dad (William H Macy) cannot look at Jack and the thought of what happened to his daughter to bring him about is one of the most powerful. Larsson veers from anger to submission to bitterness without any of it feeling unreal or out of context. It’s a wonderful nuanced performance. A wonderful scene of Ma showing Jack pictures of her school friends, frozen forever as happy teenagers just before she was taken; ‘you know what happened to them’ she asks Jack ‘nothing, nothing happened, they just lived their lives’. 

So to nine year old Jacob Tremblay (what a cracker of a name eh). His performance in my opinion matches Larson’s. For one so young to be able to convey the complexity of emotions in Jack that are required to make the situation believable is commendable. Physically Tremblay’s ‘prettiness’ works well in the role but ultimately it is a wonderful performance and contributed hugely to the tears that started around 25 minutes in and did not stop until well into the end credits. Tremblay perfectly pitches Jack's needs, from longing for his old world, a world that to him held no malice, simply the comfort of his mother and the objects he had only ever known and loved; to then visiting that Room having started to grow and realise other people exist outside of Ma. We see the world expand before his eyes and it is simply wondrous.

Larson and Tremblay are well supported by a wonderful Joan Allen as Ma’s own mother, estranged father William H Macy (underused but always excellent) and a lovely turn by Tom McCamus as Ma’s mother’s kind new boyfriend. McCamus’ scenes with Tremblay were some of the most touching. 

Danny Cohen’s masterful cinematography paints a blue world in Room and gives the viewer spaces where there are none, light where there is dark. It’s a beautiful job. Although I cried throughout the film and found it very moving I also felt it could have been, well, more. Certain aspects were shied away from which made the viewing, although impacting and moving less powerful than it ultimately could have been. The tension of the escape scene which should be heart pumping stuff felt watered down and I personally didn’t buy Sean Bridgers performance or get any kind of malice from Old Nick but we don’t see enough so he can’t really be blamed. William H Macy’s role is woefully underdeveloped, he just disappears and isn't talked about again. Lastly some elements of Ma and Jack’s relationship from the book were left out of the film (of course that’s the filmmaking process); however I feel they would have helped the impact - the fact she still breastfeeds Jack for example. Room at times just felt like a sanitised, Hollywood version of what could have been a grittier film.  

In short:

Room is a wonderful, emotional film, beautifully performed by two stunning actors in Larson and Tremblay.  Abrahamson has done great job in bringing something so difficult to the big screen. Abrahamson is showing us that Ma and Jack move from one prison to another, albeit a more acceptable one. It is Jack who manages again to optimistically overcome all odds. In this strange minefield of a world we live in, we could and should all learn from the persistent, enthusiastic dreamer that is a child. 

Check Si's LFF 2015 review of Room here.

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