ROOM, drama, rated R, Re­gal DeVar­gas, 3.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - — Lau­rel Glad­den

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

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