Tuesday 9 February 2016

Movie Review: Room (2015)

An intimate drama about survival, Room is a child's view of an abduction ordeal. The film is original, but offers frustratingly little beyond its basic premise.

Joy Newsome (Brie Larson) is raising her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) in a single room. As a teenager, Joy was abducted by a psychopath known only as Big Nick, and held captive as a sex slave in a back yard garden shed. A skylight is her only window to the outside world. Jack was born in captivity, and all he knows is the inside of the room, plus whatever Joy explains to him and what he sees on the rudimentary television. Every night Big Nick visits the room to have sex with Joy, with Jack confined to the closet. Once Jack turns five, Joy's thoughts turn to plotting an escape, and she will need Jack's help to succeed.

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, Room is a small story built on one big idea. The film spends its first half literally in one small room serving as an entire habitat, and the second half exploring emotional damage, all from the perspective of five year old Jack. The film mixes intensity with a sense of wonderment, Joy portrayed as a hero and a victim, and the rest of the world a large, mysterious place filled with strangers, both intimidating and welcoming to a young curious mind.

The charm of Room is also its limitation. The world as seen by a five year old is a fascinating, sometimes scary place, but it is also a truncated, splintered perspective, lacking in depth and continuity. And while Room succeeds in capturing the astonishment and anxiety that comes from a child discovering what the world has to offer, by definition the film stops short of delving into any one issue beyond what young Jack can comprehend.

The second part of the film particularly suffers. Jack is an observer as the world outside the room opens up to him, and he witnesses adults grappling with the aftermath of the abduction ordeal. Joy has to find her bearings in the real world, deal with her parents (Joan Allen and William H. Macy), the media hounds, and self-serving lawyers, while redefining her purpose in life and struggling with feelings of guilt.

There is rich territory to explore, but Room can only offer partial scenes and fragments of discord, because this is all that Jack can discern. There are tender moments as Jack emerges out of his scarred shell and creates new connections with other grown-ups, but the film defaults to a menu of themes that would make for an engrossing experience, but without the follow-through to more fully deliver any of the items.

Brie Larson as Joy and young Jacob Tremblay as Jack are both quite touching as victims and survivors. The script by Emma Donaghue (who also wrote the book) never asks for cheap pity, and Larson emphasizes the smart toughness Joy had to call upon to raise her son in confinement and come through her ordeal. Tremblay avoids all the hazards of cuteness, and also steers Jack towards coherent stubbornness and a less-than-perfect disposition forged by a most unusual upbringing.

Room is innovative and appealing, both faithful to and constrained by its unique vision.

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