Room (2015)

26 Oct

There have been several great films that examine the physical and – more haunting – the psychological aspects of being confined to a single space. Buried127 Hours, and Rear Window come to mind. But no other film does such a great job examining the relationship between one’s perceived physical space and age. When we are young, our perceived space is relatively small; our childhood home, backyard, and occasional trip to the supermarket, cinema, or relatives’ house make up the entirety of the known universe. To 5 year old Jack (Jacob Tremblay), it is a 11-by-11-foot Room.

Jack has literally spent his life in this Room (who is its own character here), with a small skylight being the evidence an outside world even exists. He only ever speaks with Ma (Brie Larson), a controlling but loving mother who tells her son all the people and places and things he sees on the TV are fake, and the only “real” things are the items in the Room with him. These objects become characters to young Jack; Table, Sink, Wardrobe, and Door are his best friends.  For much of the first act of Room avoids the questions of why or how and instead focuses on the day-today activities of Jack and Ma (who also seemingly never leaves the Room). Bit by bit, the pieces of the mystery are slowly revealed to the audience, but not before Jack is given an opportunity to – for the first time in his life – see what lies beyond the Door.

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, director of the whimsical music film Frank, Room is wrought with humanity, emotion, and two of the best performances of the decade. By honing in on the love between a mother and child, Room leaves a large opportunity for disaster if the performances aren’t played by anything but the best actors. Fortunately, this is the film’s strongest point, with Brie Larson giving her all and Jacob Tremblay walking down the rarely-seen road of authentic child acting. Supporting roles by William H. Macy, Sean Bridgers, and Joan Allen are all great, though the most poignant scenes occur between Larson and Tremblay.

Room works best when it focuses on simplicity; instead of opting for complex themes and ideas, Abrhamson is able to extract volumes from the simple story by playing to the actor’s strengths and triggering heartstrings like a simple, but beautiful piano melody. It’s such a shame Abrahamson tries too hard to shoehorn everything into the first anxiety-ridden 20 minutes, leaving a thin third act that fails to match up to a suspenseful mid-film climax. Still, Room resonates in it’s quieter, introspective moments – particularly so when it’s characters face the repercussions of rehabilitating into society.

Bottom Line: Though it’s easy pickins for anyone to criticize Room for being too contrived and emotionally manipulative, it’s hard to knock the genuine skill and humanity with which Abrahamson conveys his subjects, and performances by both Brie Larson and newcomer Jacob Tremblay are top notch. 

Rating : 7/10 

Film Recipe: Short Term 12Beasts of the Southern Wild   

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