The Good: Most of the performances, The direction is good
The Bad: Oppressive tone, Minimalist plot and characters
The Basics: Another absolutely miserable art house film, Room is unpleasant oscarbait that will easily be forgotten after this year's Best Picture race is over.
When it comes to Best Picture nominees this year, I cannot think of a film I knew less about in advance than Room. In fact, all I knew about the movie was that it was strategically released for Oscar Nomination eligibility. It was exactly the type of Oscarbait that I derided in my article on Oscarsowhite (that's here! Check it out!). In fact, I did not even recall the film's star, Brie Larson, from 21 Jump Street (reviewed here!), which might be the only thing I've seen her in before Room.
Room is adapted from Emma Donoghue's novel, but given that the screenplay was by Donoghue, it is hard to argue that she did not create the story she wanted for the screen. It is, as always, worth noting, that this is a review of the film, not the book. I have not read the book upon which this film was based, so the review is very purely of the movie. Room, as it turns out, is a dismal film about human suffering that once again supports the notion that Oscar voters believe that for a film to win Best Picture it should be both as far from something commercially viable (much less a blockbuster) and as distant from enjoyable as possible.
Jack is a five year-old boy, being raised entirely in isolation, with his mother. Ma takes care of Jack and celebrates his birthday with him, promising him birthday cake and when she delivers, Jack throws a childish outburst about the lack of candles. That night, when Jack is supposed to be sleeping in the wardrobe, Old Nick visits and the boy overhears the man say he would have brought a gift. Ma insists he would not, but later, Old Nick brings a remote control truck, which annoys Ma, given how the room they share is about a ten foot cube. Jack witnesses Old Nick manipulating Ma (which he does not understand) and when Nick falls asleep in Ma's bed one night, Jack crawls out and sees him, which results in Nick beating Ma (based on her waking up and freaking out that Nick might touch Jack).
It does not take long at all into Room before the viewer realizes that Ma and Jack are captives in the tiny shed. When Old Nick cuts power to the shed, Ma tries to explain the world outside the shed to her son. The film follows Ma's determination to prepare Jack for the real world as she prepares to spring herself and Jack after seven years of being imprisoned there. Ma tries to fool Nick with the idea that Jack is sick and then dead in order to escape. Despite the vagueness of the clues and the somewhat botched attempt to escape, Officer Parker figures out a search radius for the shed and soon Jack and Ma are reunited. What follows is Jack's attempts to integrate into the real world, discovering everything that exists outside the room.
Room is an intense film and, truth be told, it managed to hit the heart strings perfectly for the night of Jack's escape. That, however, does not make the film exceptional. Room is almost homogeneously uncomfortable to watch and director Lenny Abrahamson does a decent job of using the camera to tell most of the story from Jack's perspective. The use of noise, perspective and close-up shots help contrast life inside the room with the larger world outside.
Brie Larson is good as Joy (Ma), but the role is somewhat monolithic and the film is very quiet. Because Joy was abducted at such a young age (seventeen), she never truly developed and Larson captures that aspect of the character very well. As well, Larson manages to foreshadow well the direction Joy goes in after the disastrous interview he has. Jacob Tremblay is, appropriately, a child actor and he plays Jack as entirely realistic given that the character is essentially being exposed to things for the first time and embodying that requires surprisingly little from the actor.
William H. Macy steals the very brief scenes he is in, perfectly embodying the difficulty Joy's father has being back in the house he once owned and in seeing Jack.
Room is a simplistic, miserable tone piece and while there might be more to write about it, it is hard to muster up the enthusiasm to do so. Watching Room is a draining experience and when considering the film, I tried to contemplate the merits. What does the story do that other films do not? There is a realism for the specific experience that is certainly analogous to every other type of shellshock, but it is so insular and unpleasant that it makes the viewer sick to watch it. Anyone who possesses empathy enough to appreciate the story would understand the emotions it evokes without witnessing the content of the film.
For other works with Joan Allen, please check out my reviews of:
The Mists Of Avalon
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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