14 January 2016

"This Is the Story You Get" — Room Movie Review

I read Emma Donoghue's novel Room soon after it came out in 2010 and found its story of a young boy and his mother who have been held captive in a confined space — the eponymous Room — for several years quite hard-going but beautifully written. It isn't the only novel about a woman who has been abducted and locked away from the world — of the others that I've read, I think Isla Morley's Above is the most interesting — but what makes Room unique is the way the story is told entirely from five-year-old Jack's perspective.

I always wondered how this would translate to the big screen but director Lenny Abrahamson and Donoghue, who wrote the screenplay, have done a great job. The film is, by turns, moving and suspenseful and really does allow you to see Room — and then the world — through Jack's eyes. Brie Larson plays Joy, who was abducted at the age of 17 by a man she calls Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) and taken to a tiny, dingy windowless room. He brings food once a week and forces himself upon Joy. Two years later, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) is born and the nightmare changes but doesn't stop.

I won't spoil any major revelations that aren't in the trailer, but if you want to go into Room completely fresh, please look away now!

As the film opens, Jack is about to turn five and he seems reasonably happy with his tiny world. Each morning, he greets each inanimate object in the room as though it is a good friend, he watches TV and he goofs around with his Ma. Joy, however, is barely keeping it together. She is depressed, often in pain and resentful of the life she could have had — the life she used to have. She starts to think of a plan to get herself and Jack out of Room. Escaping will be hard enough but she must first try to convey the concept of the outside world to a five-year-old boy whose only knowledge of it comes from TV. Indeed, Jack struggles at first with the difference between TV and reality.

The trailer makes no secret of the fact that Joy and Jack do leave Room, but Joy, like Thomas Wolfe before her, finds that you can't go home again. Her parents' (Joan Allen and William H. Macy) lives have changed a lot in the past seven years and although they are relieved to welcome Joy home, their relationships with their daughter and newfound grandson quickly become very fraught. Room doesn't devote much emotional energy to these problems, however, instead focusing Jack's tentative forays into the outside world. He is a young Mork, freshly emerged from his Room into our strange planet. And its a beautiful thing to behold!

Without exceptional performances from Larson and the talented young Tremblay, Room could easily have veered into the stuff of made-for-TV movies. Instead, Larson captures the utter sense of loneliness and despair of a woman named Joy who has spent the past seven years being deprived of all joy, but whose love for her son becomes her raison d'être. Tremblay, meanwhile, steals every scene, which is no mean feat given the stellar cast. His Jack is curious, captivating and utterly devoted to his mother.

Room isn't the toughest view of the awards season this year (see also: The Revenant), but it is still painful and disturbing at times. There are plenty of lighter moments too, though, and overall, it bears a message of hope and survival in the face of adversity.

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