This review originally appeared in the Daily Lobo, UNM’s independent student newspaper.
Room is a painful film to watch, an experience provided very deliberately by director by director Lenny Abrahamson. One gets the sense that it should get easier to endure as it progresses, only to realize by the credits roll that an all-around happy ending to this kind of story would be the stuff of fantasy.
Instead, Room strives to speak to something more, because there is only so much sentimentality that can predictably be lent to a story that beings with a women and her son living in a space barely bigger than a bathroom.
The film’s haunting spirit is driven by a pair of incredibly memorable and powerful performances by Brie Larson (21 Jump Street, The Spectacular Now) and Jacob Tremblay (The Smurfs 2, Gord’s Brother). 9-year-old Tremblay in particular is an absolute force as Jack, who has a certain naiveté that lingers throughout the film longer than anyone expects. He pulls Room, and the audience, in a direction that tests our emotional limits.
Based on the popular novel of the same name, Room tells the story of an abducted women held in a tiny enclosed space with her son Jack –the whole world he knows being the titular room he lives in – and the experiences and internal conflicts they must endure when they finally escape.
There’s a fascinating story-within-a-story to Room, one which portrays the contrasts between how Jack and his mom deal with experiencing the outside world for the first time in seven years, in ways that make the audience ponder the complexities of a world we are so accustomed to.
Abrahamson’s delicate direction – as well as an emotional, Oscar-nominated screenplay by the novel’s author, Emma Donoghue – ensures the film keeps stride with those themes, but it really is the captivating turns by Tremblay and Larson that pushes the film into territory that can be deemed a complex examination of the psyche when it finds itself having to adapt to the unfamiliar.
Simply put, the pair have a presence and chemistry that is tough to find in any other film from the last year.
Room isn’t coy with its subject matter – and it shouldn’t pretend to be, what with the unfathomable premise it presents – but rather realistic, focusing on the simple yet oh so delicate bond between a mother and her son that the whole movie revolves around.
Abrahamson could have taken it in another direction completely, focusing on the world around the pair that has changed so much.
Instead, he rightly elects to focus on the micro, on that bond that becomes strained when the relationship between Jack and his mother should be revitalized in the comfort expected to be found in the outside world.
Although Room does more or less go full circle when it comes to Jack and his struggle to adapt to a world that to him seems like a surreal fantasy, there are other relationships and mindsets that are merely teased when they could have been explored further, especially when it comes to Joy and her father.
But the bonds the film does explore are profoundly satisfying, and also an incredibly humbling experience to behold. The audience can expect to leave at the very least pondering the ostensible simplicities of life, if not transformed. Larson and Tremblay’s profound and sincere performances will make sure of that; at times subdued while at others explosive, this pair is the bedrock, driving force and spirit of one of the most emotionally captivating films of the decade, one that’s never quite as cathartic as the audience may expect.
On the contrary, Room is an ultimately much more believable – and therefore powerful – piece of film that teaches us that companionship, above all else, is the key to keeping ourselves strong in the face of extraordinary adversity.
In a Nutshell
Driven by hauntingly mesmerizing performances, emotion and humble honesty, Room is one of the very best pictures of the year, with the best chemistry between its two leads, Larson and Tremblay.
9 / 10
Room is rated R for language
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson