THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Note: Emma Donoghue's novel Room was a best-seller, but if you've never read it, the movie adaptation is better the less you know going in. For that reason, this review will tread very lightly on plot details.
Room is a cinematic miracle. It deals with intensely difficult subject matter in a way that's honest without being manipulative, and forthright without becoming depressing. In fact, for a story dealing with this topic, it's astounding how healing and hopeful Room actually is. You go through just about every emotion imaginable as you watch it – and at times, your stomach is in knots – yet the end result is rewarding in a way most movies can only dream of being.
Brie Larson (Short Term 12) plays Joy, a young woman held captive in a tiny room with her five-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay). Their only view of the outside comes via a skylight in the ceiling. Joy does the best she can to raise Jack in this developmentally-limited capacity. He has no concept that an entire world exists beyond the room. All he knows is what's contained with its four walls. As the story progresses, we learn why Joy and Jack are being held there, who is responsible for their captivity, and what it all means. The second hour of the film looks at the repercussions of these things.
Based on the best-selling novel by Emma Donoghue, Room is very much about the effects of abuse and trauma. It looks at what one needs to do in order to survive a traumatic ordeal – physically, psychologically, and emotionally. Moreover, the plot goes on to examine not only the damage that can be done, but also the ways in which healing comes from gaining some sort of mastery over the event. Joy and Jack, in their own ways, gradually realize that moving forward means facing what they've endured, processing that it was real, and figuring out a means by which they can determine their own fates going forward. This is one of the truest and most perceptive films ever made on the subject.
At the same time – and just as powerfully - Room is about the bond between a mother and her son. Joy is intensely protective of Jack. She sacrifices for him and encourages optimism, even as her own outlook grows bleak. One of the most gripping things about Room is that there are moments when you wonder if Joy is making a good call. She makes decisions in the heat of panic. Yet even when you question her choices, there's no doubt that the desire to keep Jack safe (and to preserve his innocence as much as possible) supersedes her own needs. She's a great mother.
While there's enough here thematically and plot-wise to make a terrific movie, the thing that really causes Room to have such a profound impact is the strength of its performances. Brie Larson is beyond superb as Joy, poignantly conveying the fierce protectiveness that the character has for her son in a desperate situation. This is a tough role, because on one hand, Larson has to project Joy's determination to do what she thinks is right for her son while simultaneously showing us how she's crumbling under the weight of her own ordeal. The actress handles this difficult task with stunning authenticity, never once making a wrong step. Young Jacob Tremblay, meanwhile, matches her note for note. It's hard to believe that an actor so young (he was seven during filming) could nail so many tough, demanding scenes. He gives one of the best performances by a child in the history of cinema.
Room was directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Frank), who brings a perfect visual style to the film. In many ways, the camera represents Jack's eyes. It sees things as children often do – in quick snatches, or starting off focusing on one thing, only to get distracted and shift to something else. The movie's editing similarly conveys a certain youthful sense of disjointedness; it's not choppy, but there are moments where it purposefully imitates Jack's attempts to absorb a lot of information rapidly. Never show-offish, Abrahamson's direction has a style that is extremely well-suited to the story's themes and occurrences. This a prime example of style being used to enhance substance.
There are moments in Room that are painful to watch, so raw are the emotions being exhibited and so harrowing are the events depicted. But boy, is it ever worth the effort. The story ultimately takes you to a place of immense comfort. It's a comfort that comes from seeing two extremely vulnerable people make it through a nearly unimaginable situation – and from recognizing that love and togetherness are the most potent healers of all.
Room is a stunning, soul-stirring, not-to-be-missed film.
( out of four)
ROOM is rated R for language. The running time is 1 hour and 58 minutes.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!