Release Date: Nov. 28, 2015
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Writer: Emma Donoghue (novel/screenplay)
Stars: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers
MPAA Rating: R
When you’re a kid, everything seems bigger. But for five-year-old Jack, the small shed he and his mother have called home for his entire life seems to stretch on for eternity.
Room is the story of Joy (Brie Larson) and her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) as they transition to life after escaping seven years in captivity. After being kidnapped as a teenager, Joy – known to Jack only as “Ma” – has yearned for the freedom of her former life. But Jack, having been conceived two years into Joy’s captivity, has no concept of the world outside of “Room.” To him there is only “Ma”, himself and the occasional visit from Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). Joy’s prison is Jack’s whole world until they manage a daring escape.
I’ll be the first to admit that, conceptually, Room sounds like nothing more than your run-of-the-mill Lifetime Original Movie. And in the wrong hands, that’s exactly what it could have been. But between Emma Donaghue’s writing, Lenny Abrahamson’s directorial efforts and two lead performances, Room has ended up as one of the best films of 2015.
Room starts in an impossibly distressing situation, but thanks to Donoghue’s choice to use Jack as the story’s narrator, the tone of the film is always optimistic. So often films that deal with victims of trauma have a tendency to wallow in the tragedy of life, but Room successfully demonstrated that these awful events are only a small part of life. By allowing us to get inside Jack’s head, we are also afforded the protection that Joy provides for him when it comes to the most upsetting aspects of their captivity. Events such as the weekly visit from Old Nick – at which time Joy is subjected to the assaults that have formed her life experience for the past seven years – feel less distressing because we are shielded the same way Jack is.
But it isn’t all bad inside Room. Humans have an incredible ability to adapt, and Joy is a prime example when it comes to raising her son. Jack knows nothing of the outside world, as his mother has done her best to ensure that he is not left wanting for something she is not sure he can ever have. Instead, she has learned to entertain him with the limited resources at her disposal – mostly by drilling him to run laps across their tiny room and making snakes out of old eggshells. Rather than feeling melancholy and claustrophobic, Jack’s room feels magical – as does any environment occupied by a five year old.
But, as Joy eventually confesses to Jack, there’s a great big world outside of Room, and after one failed escape attempt, the two manage to make it out of their prison. Joy and Jack take turns playing the roles of excited and terrified when exploring this new world, never quite knowing what they are supposed to be feeling. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay make an incredible team and it’s impossible to speak of their performances as separate entities. Brie Larson’s ability to portray the tragic reality of Joy’s traumatic experiences in captivity are beautifully complimented by Jacob Tremblay’s nuanced portrayal of Jack’s naivete.
Larson was just announced as a nominee for Best Actress for this years Academy Awards and it’s certainly deserved. As a trauma victim myself, I have a fairly fine-tuned bullshit meter when I see it portrayed poorly in film. Larson does a beautiful job showing the complexity of trauma – her seemingly nonsensical angry outburst at her mother was all too familiar to me and I’m sure many others. She plays the character of Joy in a perfectly restrained manner, making her emotional outbursts all the more powerful when they do happen. It’s an incredible performance and definitely one of the best of the year.
But Jacob Tremblay is the true star of this film. At only nine years old, Tremblay turns in one of the best performances of the past year and one of the greatest performances of a child actor that I have ever seen. The film is impossible without him. He carries an incredibly emotionally (and dialogue) heavy performance in such a way that he comes off as a peer to Brie Larson rather than the token child actor necessary for the film. He did not garner any major nominations for Room, but I have confidence that Tremblay has a long career ahead of him.
Room has garnered four Academy Award nominations – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay. There are many that say that award shows are meaningless and in most cases I agree. Room is a notable exception. Every piece of this film is gorgeous and worth a watch – though be prepared for some serious tears.
And get ready to see an unforgettable performance by the only nine year old to ever be snubbed by the Academy.
Molly Regan is an improviser and writer in Baltimore. She likes chicken pot pie, Adam Scott’s butt and riot grrl.