Room, starring Brie Larson and busy little newcomer Jacob Tremblay is a film that defies all expectations and delivers a win of epic proportions. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (award winning Irish director of Garage and Frank) from the novel and screenplay by Emma Donoghue, Room is an intimate film.
Even after leaving the shed where the film starts, the movie can be called intimate, with a focus on two main protagonists, Ma and Jack and minimal intrusion from secondary characters, even when they are plot specific. (Old Nick, played by Sean Bridgers, for instance is only seen occasionally and after the escape not seen at all.)
Despite this intimacy both Larson and Tremblay deliver performances that should receive gongs. As the parent and child who only have each other, in a “room” that Ma has made into a world for her first born, these two initially puzzle the viewer. With all the action taking place in a 10×10 room, one wonders if there has been some sort of disaster or war that makes staying in this tiny area a necessity.
Only after the introduction of Old Nick do things become clearer and more so on Jack’s birthday when Ma tells her now five year old son the truth about the room and she concocts a desperate plan of escape. A dangerous ploy that will either result in their freedom, or just her son’s.
Ironically, Brie Larson has just been declared Hollywood’s new “It Girl” a somewhat shallow honor all about the “mystical” quality of attraction, first coined by high society hostess Elsa Maxwell back during the halcyon days of Tinseltown. Watching this film it is apparent from the first time we see her that Larson has it, only in this case, “it” is talent in the form of massive acting chops.
There is nothing indefinable about the actress or her performance. Sans makeup, or artifice, and evoking a kind of truth rarely seen outside of a documentary, Larson looks and feels like the real deal. A teen who has grown up in a limited space with little contact with anyone apart from her son, Old Nick and a television.
Tremblay’s intermittent narration and his interaction with Brie works on many different levels. The chemistry between the two actors is spot on and it is easy to get caught up in their isolated relationship. The mother and son are touching and it is apparent that they are both growing up together in this small space.
Later, the film changes and while the scope is still intimate, the setting changes; which will challenge the mother and son. Will this new place break them apart or will that closeness remain?
This Irish production, partly funded by UK’s Film 4 and the Irish Film Board, captures the simple complexity of a mother and son whose lives are intertwined intimately. Larson convinces as the girl who became a woman in captivity who weaves a magical world for her son and then desperately risks his life so he can be free.
Joan Allan is Ma’s mother Nancy, Willam H. Macy is father Robert, divorced from Nancy. These two peripheral characters, Macy more so as his screen time is limited to mere seconds, are only used to help show the confusion and irrationality that Ma and Jack face in the real world.
The costumes and the sets all feel real. The outfits that both Ma and Jack wear look like they have been taken from second hand shops or out of the bargain bucket at Kmart or WalMart. The shed looks like a self-help nightmare that “Old Nick” furnished with objects gleaned from garage sales and the local tip.
Production designs and costuming aside, it is Larson and Tremblay who sell Room. Abrahamson gives us the claustrophobic necessity of the shed and then elevates our adrenaline levels once we follow Jack outside. The agoraphobic buildup with that intense overload of sensory input for both Jack and the viewer makes the scene in the back of the truck almost too difficult to view.
Room is a film that evokes emotions. Tissues may be required for all but the most hard hearted and although this is not a “weepy” (a film intended to cruelly manipulate our emotions) it is touching and, at times, hard to watch. The real power of this film is in its ability, via the work of the director, Larson and Tremblay, to make us love each of them; Ma and Jack, and to care deeply about what happens to each character.
This is a cracking film which has suspense, drama, love and growth all in the space of 118 minutes. A24 (distributors), Element Pictures and No Space Camping have a winner here and one that should be watched by anyone who loves tales of the indomitable human spirit of a boy and his mother.
A full 5 stars.