With awards season coming up, you’ve inevitably heard about Lenny Abrahamson’s film Room, and for good reason. It’s a solid film that features a simply fantastic performance from up and coming actress Brie Larson that will more than likely get her a Best Actress nomination which is richly deserved. However as an overall film Room is on the plus side of good but Larson’s performance makes it a must-see. (This is also a difficult film to review without spoiling plot points so, be warned.)
Room tells the story of Ma (Larson) and her 5-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who are being held captive in a small garden shed by a psychopath named “Old Nick” (Sean Bridgers). Now, that may sound like some kind of horror movie set-up but this story, adapted from the popular book of the same name by Emma Donoghue (who also wrote the screenplay), is more concerned with the emotional toll this imprisonment takes on this young family. As such, Room is basically two stories: one involving the incarceration of Ma and Jake and the second having to do with their eventual freedom. Again, this may seem spoilery but if you’ve seen the trailer (which is posted above this) it all seems pretty obvious. Plus, you were warned!
While Room definitely sticks in your mind days after seeing it and I did like it, there’s some curious directorial choices in the film that kind of left me cold. Firstly, the beginning section of the film features Larson and Tremblay alone in a room but you never feel the inherent claustrophobia. While undoubtedly the first act is designed to give insight into the relationship between these two so we can see it morph upon their eventual escape, it all feels pretty one-note. Yes, you feel awful for this poor woman who was plucked from the street at 17-years-old. And yes, it’s a terrifying and awful situation ripped from the headlines. But I never really felt the threat level nor the despair for these characters and by the time this beginning section wraps-up, it felt like the sole purpose of it existing was to get to the second and third act where the real world barges in and things get interesting.
Ma has been missing for over 7-years and life has moved on in the real world without her. Of course Jack only knows life in the room which makes the world seem even more huge than it is but Ma, after the initial joy at being free wears off, shows she’s had a lot of time to think about her life and perseverate on reasons “why” this happened to her. I don’t blame her as anyone stuck in a small room for as long as she has been will no doubt have a lot of time to think but these ideas Ma has are also completely warped by her imprisonment. Although she tries to keep a straight face for her loved ones, we all soon realize Ma is not all right and this is intriguing. It also leaves Jack basically without the only person he’s ever known which is equally compelling. Yet Abrahamson never really goes deep with these ideas or, any ideas really and it’s confounding as to why.
Films that don’t spell out every character motivation or reasoning are fine by me, when done well. But several times in Room we’re lead to a point of unearthing feelings or information after a major scene and then Abrahamson pulls out, never giving catharsis or concrete closure. For instance simple math lets you in on a pretty nasty subplot that Ma was abducted at 17, is 24 now and Jack is 5 but this is scarcely broached and when it is, it’s explosive but fades almost instantly. Again, I am typically o.k. with this but here, it just feels like a bad choice. Vague brushstrokes also never really allow us to get to know Ma or understand where she’s coming from. While of course we “get” that her awful situation has had its toll on her, she’s never really given a chance at growth, at least onscreen.
The other thing that bugged me about Room was the introduction of two well-known actors as Ma’s parents late in the film. I won’t say who they are but when well-known actors show up late in a film, it totally takes me out of it and makes me go “oh, hey…there’s so-and-so. I AM watching a movie!” As a result just as things started moving into a new gear I was slapped in the face with the reminder that this is a movie. Which of course it is but if we’re to give ourselves over to the story onscreen distractions should be minor.
Granted, that last part might seem like a bitchy quibble and maybe that’s just my problem, but overall I felt like Room could have been better. Larson is truly a revelation as is young Tremblay as Jack. And again, this film is really more of a meditation on love and parenting rather than a thriller. I found those ideas incredibly compelling but there just wasn’t enough of them fully fleshed out. Room is definitely a must-see film but the performance of Brie Larson makes it so. She’s at once venerable and screwed up. You’re not only rooting for her to survive but also to just get better. This is a tough performance to pull off and Larson simply nails it. That being said, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she’s the only one feted from Room come awards season.