Brie Larson delivers a powerhouse performance in Lenny Abrahamson’s deeply moving drama.
Parenting is not an easy task, in fact to many it can be a shattering experience – trying to be and form a safe space for a tiny person that can’t possible understand all its complexities, all the while maintaining some semblance of individuality. This is one of the central ideas at the heart of Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, a deeply moving portrait of our connection with the world around us, how it informs us and most importantly: who builds it.
Adapted by Emma Donoghue (from her best-selling 2010 novel of the same name), Room tells the story of Jack (Jacob Tremblay, in a stunning and restrained debut), a five-year-old boy who, along with his Ma, Joy (Brie Larson, wild and nuanced), live inside a 10×10 room, held captive by Old Nick – a man who captured Joy at 17 and has abused/kept her confined ever since. Jack, however, having been born in Room – all of the general items are pronouns to him, since they are the only ones in existence to him i.e. Lamp, Plant, Toilet etc – doesn’t see anything wrong with their situation. Believing that the only thing outside Room is space, he goes about his day with normalcy, a luxury Joy has given to him but cannot duplicate for herself when Old Nick reappears in the evenings to bring her food and supplies, and rape her. Eventually she can no longer handle shielding Jack from their grim situation, and he gets a harsh dose of the real world as they try and make an escape.
As perhaps one of the most thrilling and moving coming-of-age stories in quite some time – as you can probably guess – there’s a lot going on in this film from the terrific, subtle performances from Larson and Tremblay, to Danny Cohen’s (The King’s Speech, Les Misérables) occasionally striking photography, but the most fascinating part of Room, for me, is the way Donoghue and Abrahamson contrast the very heavy, based on real-life subject matter with a wondrous, childlike perspective, weaving a story devastating pain into something sweet and life-affirming. The performances are obviously a huge part of that. As she proved she could be in the tremendous Short Term 12, Brie Larson is an absolute powerhouse in Room, whipping so many conflicting emotions at us through subtle looks and movements they can be hard to track. And she sells every. single. one of them. Easily one of the strongest performances of 2015. Tremblay, however, is equally as strong as he walks the fine line between loveably curious and cloying – an incredibly difficult balance to strike in this particular story as it’s easy to be frustrated with him, knowing all the horror he can’t see right in front of him. But together, especially in the early scenes that see Larson and Tremblay confined to such a tight space, there is a chemistry so profound and heartbreaking it carries the rest of the film.
[For those wishing to go in completely blind, stop reading]
A few visual/musical hiccups aside, Abrahamson – whose previous film, the idiosyncratic breakdown of art vs. commerce, Frank, I highly recommend – does a great job accentuating Donoghue’s script, which, very faithfully adapted from the novel, is just loaded with subtly powerful moments. Jack’s first moments outside of Room are filmed like discovering a new planet in Interstellar, overwhelming the senses, and the curiosity that Tremblay had already brought – his face a canvas trying to absorb every bit of information. And the second half of Room, that tracks Joy’s difficulty returning home, stuck between still being a daughter and now raising a son that only reminds her of her pain is just packed with moments like these, as Abrahamson observes all the spaces in these people’s lives, and how they inform them. Perhaps my favorite moment sees Joy introducing Jack to her old bedroom, chalk full of the 17-year-old version of his Ma he will never get to know.
Room is some truly affecting, nuanced stuff, especially in its back half as it asks some really tough questions in regards to the ways we raise children that get even further complicated as more and more elements are introduced to the unprepared Jack, and we start to see that maybe there’s a choice in who we allow to build our worlds for us. A lesson both Jack and Joy are forced to learn the hard way.