Sunday, October 18, 2015

Review: Room

Image courtesy of A24.
Based on the popular and acclaimed novel by Emma Donoghue, "Room" is a compelling story that works well, despite my early fears that its story would be too, well, confining. The picture, directed by Lenny Abrahamson (who was responsible for the deliriously funny and strange "Frank"), tells the story of a young mother and her 5-year-old son who, for reasons I probably shouldn't divulge, spend their every waking moment in a small, claustrophobic room.

The mother (Brie Larson) once lived in the outside world, but her son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), has not only never seen it, but doesn't even know it exists. His mother has told him all his life that everything outside of the room is outer space and convinces him that the shows he watches on TV are solely there for their entertainment. Occasionally, a man shows up to have sex with the young woman and Jack is forced to stay in his closet, where he sleeps on a mattress.

Had the entirety of "Room" be spent in this tight space, I fear the story might have suffered for it. But just as the room-centered story begins to hint at being tedious, Jack's mother devises an attempt for him to flee the space and he eventually assists his mother in leaving as well.

The duo winds up at the childhood home of Larson's parents (Joan Allen and William H. Macy), who have since divorced in the seven years of their daughter's absence. Allen's Nancy has since remarried and her genial husband has a dog with whom Jack can play.

What ultimately makes "Room" such a compelling movie - other than Larson's solid work and the Tremblay, who gives one of the best child performances in years - is that it's not so much about the strange situation involved in the two characters' being kept in the room, but rather their becoming accustomed once again to the real world.

Larson's character goes through various stages of grief and there's a particularly grueling sequence during which a news reporter poses some unsettling questions to the distraught woman. And, even more powerful, is the concept of a 5-year-old discovering the world anew and having to catch up on everything he has missed thus far. And Tremblay simply nails it. It's an especially tricky role for a young child, considering that most boys Tremblay's age are far from being fully formed human beings. So, for him to be able to portray such wonder and such knowingness at the same time at such a young age leads me to believe it's either through luck or sheer talent - or maybe both.

Abrahamson's adaptation of Donoghue's novel works because it allows us to discover the world through a pair of eyes seeing it for the first time. It goes from being a disturbing story about a woman and young boy trapped in a confined space to those same characters being trapped, of sorts, in the most wide open spaces imaginable by their fears to adapt to the world. It's a film that sneaks up on you and ends up being much effective than you might originally think it would.

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