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A slow and methodical exploration of love, survival, and a unique mother-son bond.

 

In a time seemingly chock-full of promising not-quite-yet-established directors, few have the consistent creative eye as Irishman Lenny Abrahamson. While not exactly new to directing, his filmography has been very low-key, up until last year’s Frank, the Michael Fassbender-led musical romp that was mildly successful financially and overwhelmingly successful critically. After opening things up in such a zany and outrageous way with Fran kit only makes sense for Abrahamson to both slow and shrink things down with his next film, Room, based on the smash hit book from Emma Donoghue.

Room is the story of Jack, played by the young Jacob Tremblay, and his mother Ma, played by Brie Larson. Ma was kidnapped seven years ago while trying to help a suspicious stranger and kept in a solitary room ever since. While in the room, or simply Room, she had Jack, assumed to be the son of Ma and her captor. As the film opens, Jack has just turned five years old, and because of this, has yet to experience life as anything other than that contained in Room. The living space half the size of a small dorm room is every single thing he knows, and Ma has done what she can with what she has to make it more than enough for both of their needs to ensure he has a healthy upbringing, given the state of things. To say much more is to say too much.

While the story of these two characters is both heartbreaking and inspirational, the film is a fantastic vehicle for two tremendous performances. Brie Larson is fantastic, as always, spanning virtually every emotion a face can reveal while keeping things tight and meticulous. It’s almost not even necessary to point it out because she simply excels in everything she does. I first saw her potential in the immaculate Short Term 12 in 2013, and since then she’s put out nothing but high quality performances. Much more surprising is the performance of Jack, played by Jacob Tremblay, just eight at the time. While the actions of the character didn’t always fly by me, not once was the performance anything but exquisite. Child-acting isn’t easy, especially when the characters aren’t written well enough to take advantage of potential talent, but Tremblay soars as a child with a kind of naïve innocence no other child has and should have, the kind where the only world and reality available to you is right in your field of view, in every direction. It’s a performance done so well it compliments that of Larson, who, as Ma, must endure not only a horrific confinement but try and teach a child that life doesn’t even begin to exist only as he has experienced it his whole life. That itself is heartbreaking, but both Tremblay and Larson make it look easy, although Larson is more than used to that by now.

It’s not easy making a film shot mostly in a single room, let alone the room the size of a relatively nice bathroom, but Abrahamson chooses a wealth of scenes that paint a picture of a childhood where nothing seems to be wrong, from a simple morning exercise routine to keep both Ma and Jack from growing weak to saying “goodnight” to every object in the room, as if each has its own living soul (and, to Jack, it does). It keeps things moving, the audience engaged, and helps craft a world in a spot where a world should not exist outside of maybe grabbing a mop or playing hide and seek.

 

The world of Room, while barren and cramped, is photographed beautifully and given colorful life by cinematographer Danny Cohen in tandem with production designer Ethan Tobman. Both work well to create a living world in such a lifeless situation, both visually and thematically, that give the audience an easier time briefly existing within it, for most of the runtime. Composer Stephen Rennicks craft a wonderfully whimsical but moody score that accentuates the childlike wonder hampered down by a barren space fully unfazed by that child. All three come together to construct an atmospheric and horrid world brought to a more lighthearted level in the mind of a child.

 

While powerful, and with superb performances aside, I didn’t find every aspect flawless. Personally I found not every scene in Room (the room, not the film as a whole) to be as engaging, and at a later point I found myself wondering if this was a real-time documentary on the subject of mundane loneliness. Maybe that’s a bit harsh, and truthfully there isn’t much more a director can do given the space that Abrahamson does, but it leads me to believe the two-hour runtime could have been trimmed just a bit in several places. I also didn’t care for the writing in certain spots; certain choices in dialogue that run off into cliché in a film where performances help avoid children-dialogue clichés. While it’s certainly not easy to craft smart dialogue for young, naïve children to scream, there were some decisions that break the experience when everything else is crafted so meticulously. Some reactions Ma has to Jack’s woes were a tad frustrating to watch, and had me yelling in my head that if Ma just told Jack he’d understand more of this when he gets older she’d, in theory, have fewer issues on her plate. That never came, but while it was minor, the top of my head began to hurt from the scratching near the end.

Lenny Abrahamson’s Room may be a bit disturbing for some people, but both those in front of and behind the camera have done well to make such a horrific situation more inspirational than horrific, and any film that manages to pull that off is something special. Room will further propel both Abrahamson as a powerhouse director to look out for and Brie Larson as the actress extraordinaire she already is.

 

 

Directed By: Lenny Abrahamson

Produced by: Jeff Arkuss

Written by: Emma Donoghue

Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, Sean Bridgers, William H. Macy

Distributed By: A24

Release Date: October 16, 2015

Run Time: 118 minutes

Rated: R

 

About The Author

Steve Carley

Steve Carley is a Michigan-born lover and resident of the film industry in Atlanta, Georgia. When he's not infiltrating the nearest Waffle House or giving up on the most recent movie-adapted book he can be seen lounging in his apartment complex's pool and regretting the way he wrote his Film Takeout bio.