ROOM, drama, rated R, Regal DeVargas, 3.5 chiles
When you first read the plot summary for this film, you might think, “Um, no thanks.” It’s the harrowing tale of a young woman named Joy (Brie Larson), who has been kidnapped and held captive in a grungy 11-by-11-foot garden shed for several years. During that time, her captor, a man she refers to only as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), has demanded sex in exchange for food, water, and electricity; Joy now has a son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who is turning five as the film opens. That’s no one’s idea of a feel-good story, and in less capable hands,
Room could easily have been dark, melodramatic, or sensationalist. But director Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation — with a screenplay by Emma Donoghue, author of the 2010 novel on which the film is based — is both suspenseful and deeply moving. It’s a gripping tale of survival, a tender depiction of a devoted mother and an imaginative boy who save each other.
Every day, Joy (or Ma, as Jack calls her) and Jack follow a pleasant seeming routine: they wake, they eat, they brush their teeth, they exercise, they clean, they read, she sings, and they sleep. “Room,” as he calls it, is the only world Jack has ever known — thanks to thoughtful camerawork, you may not at first fully grasp just how small that space is — and he addresses the objects that surround him (Lamp, Sink, Plant, Table, Bed) as if they are his friends.
A storyline as spare as this depends on strong performances, and we get them. Larson is sincere and restrained; she conveys worlds with glances and with the way she sits and stands. Tremblay is remarkable and real — enchanting without a whiff of Precocious Child Actor demeanor. The chemistry between the two is natural and utterly believable.
Even if you’ve read Donoghue’s book, you’ll be transfixed by this film — its midpoint in particular is pulse-pounding. Rather than spoil anything, though, let’s just say that during the second act, we meet some new characters, played by a terrific Joan Allen, an even-keeled Tom McCamus, and an oddly underused William H. Macy. The tone shifts, but the story remains compelling, rich, and moving.
Room teeters on the brink of sentimentality when it uses Jack’s words of childlike wonder in semi-poetic voiceover, but it otherwise resists the temptation of a tidy resolution. Life is messy, it reminds us, and weathering one trauma doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing from there on. What helps us survive loss and eventual reawakening are the bonds between us and a recognition of the beauty of the small things around us.
Small pleasures: Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson