Tag Archives: Brie Larson

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   

Trainwreck (2015)

30 Aug

Director Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, This Is 40) brings us his latest comedic adventure with the feminist-tainted Trainwreck. Written and starring comedian Amy Schumer, Trainwreck tells the story of Amy, an immature, self-obsessed, alcoholic trying to find love among a surplus of one-night stands.

After seeing her parent’s relationship fall apart, Amy decides the life of monogamy isn’t for her, and thus spends most of her nights with a variety of detached sexual encounters. “My rule is: never to spend the night”, she quips. A young journalist by trade, Amy is given a lead feature about a talented sport’s doctor’s (Bill Hader) recent work with the NBA. Of course the two end up falling for each other despite having complete character incompatibility, and now Amy must learn to grow up and face her fears of settling down with someone for the long term.

Schumer, mostly known for her work in stand-up comedy, makes a convincing enough entrance into the acting world and brings a lot life to her deadbeat and offensive character. Her and Hader create interesting on-screen chemistry, and the scenes featuring the couple getting to know each other are some of the film’s best.

Unfortunately, they don’t last long. Most of the film is too busy trying to negotiate between Apatow’s and Schumer’s differing comedic styles, resulting in a finished product where the jokes really don’t land and instead fall awkwardly flat on their face (sometimes literally). The supporting characters are lifeless and uninteresting comedic tropes; so dull not even the ensemble of Colin Quinn, Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, Brie Larson, and LeBron James (yes, you read that right) can provide relief. Useless cameos of Daniel Radcliffe, Marisa Tomei, and Matthew Broderick, while good intended, feel uncomfortable and stale.

And then you face the issue of the story itself (or lack thereof) facing a whopping 2+ hour running time, which, (saying as how most audiences will predict how this thing plays out after the first 20 minutes) feels tragically unnecessary. Most of the film feels like a mishmash of random deleted scenes played with direct voiceover exposition; there is a particular lunch exchange between LeBron and Hader that goes on for way, wayyyyy too long. Little is done here to create an actual dramatic story, which is an absolute necessity when the comedy wears thin.

Bottom Line – More cringeworthy than comical, most of Trainwreck tries too hard to make you laugh by awkwardly combining jokes from Apatow and Schumer. 

Rating: 4/10 

Film Recipie: She’s Gotta Have It  – any artistic sensibilities + Space Jam

Digging For Fire (2015 Sundance)

4 Feb

Joe Swanberg is a bit of an enigma. On one hand, he is known for his nasty bad-guy characters from recent horror films like V.H.S., Proxy and You’re Next! On the other hand, his work as a director fits nicely into the mumblecore fare, with films like Happy Christmas and Drinking Buddies about as far away from the horror genre as you can get. When I first read the discription for his latest Sundance Film Festival entry Digging For Fire, I was expecting something with a bit more thrills (after all, the film’s premise revolves around a man digging up a bone and a gun from someone’s backyard), but I left feeling uplifted but slightly underwhelmed.

The main protagonists here are Lee (played by an always enjoyable Rosemarie DeWitt) who is married to slacker husband Tim (Jake Johnson doing his thing). Lee is a yoga instructor who is trusted by her boss to watch an expensive house while she is away. While Lee is out doing business, Tim takes up the responsibility of preparing the couple’s tax returns with their toddler son (played by Joe Swanberg’s real life son Jude) to keep him company. Of course Tim does what any good slacker husband would do and invites his buddies over for a few drinks and to enjoy their host’s expensive swimming pool. Thier drunken night together leads to a discovery of certain artifacts buried deep under the earth, and this soon starts an obsessive Tim on a journey to solve the mystery.

Aesthetically, Digging For Fire is pretty solid thanks to a wonderful soundtrack from Dan Romer (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and cinematography from Ben Richardson (The Fault in our Stars); together, they create a distinct tone for the film that is situated somewhere between romance, adventure and cynicism. Like many films of his contemporaries (the Duplass brothers or Andrew Bujalski come to mind), Swanberg’s narrative fits into the no-man’s-land between comedy, romance, and family drama. Unlike other mumblecore stories however, Digging For Fire is tragically missing the charming spark that keeps the sub-genre feeling fresh and interesting. Most of the supporting cast (several of whom are big-name indie personalities like Sam Rockwell, Jenny Slate, Anna Kendrick, or Brie Larson) feel unnecessarily invented as a way to show off a clever cameo, and the backbone of the story is revealed to be a simple mcguffin plot device. DeWitt and Johnson have a cool chemistry between them, and a few good laughs are in store, but it simply isn’t enough to carry the entirety of film. While Digging For Fire doesn’t quite have the substance that I was looking for, it still provides another light-hearted and intriguing filmic experience.

Rating: 6/10 

Similar to: Safety Not Guaranteed (2012), Greenberg (2010), Men, Women and Children (2014)