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New Release Review - ROOM

A young mother and her son struggle to adapt after being freed from the garden shed where they were held captive for several years.

Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson

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


Room plays like a worthwhile character study from which all the most interesting moments - those occurring before and after its protagonists speak - have been edited out to accommodate an audience raised on talky TV dramas.



Irish filmmaker Lenny Abrahamson's latest, and most high profile, work follows a template he previously sketched for his third feature, What Richard Did, dealing with the psychological aftermath of a horrendous crime. This time, Abrahamson looks at the effects on the victim(s) rather than the perpetrator, but like What Richard Did, it fails to truly get under the skin and into the minds of its characters, settling instead for mopey ennui and soap-operatic bursts of rage.
Because Abrahamson is now working on a global scale, he's been forced to employ a dumbed down mode of storytelling, one that ensures the smartphone and TV addicts in the audience can follow the narrative without having to engage in any sort of nuanced, ambiguous, organic unravelling of characters or story.
This becomes apparent in Room's opening scene, when that most offensive of Hollywood devices is immediately employed - the voiceover narrative from a child, in this case Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who wakes up in what appears to be the grubby bedsit he shares with his Mom, Joy (Brie Larson), for his fifth birthday. As the day unfolds it becomes apparent that Jack and Joy are confined to this 'room', and at night we learn the full horror of the situation when their captor, Old Nick (Sean Bridgers, who previously played this character in Lucky McKee's The Woman), arrives for his regular abuse of Joy.
We're told that Joy has been enduring this nightmare for seven years, when she was snatched, and a stain hidden under a rug hints at the birth of Jack two years into her captivity. This same rug provides a second birth for Jack when Joy fakes his death, rolling the 'corpse' tightly within its dirty fabric for Old Nick to dispose of, thus allowing Jack a chance to finally escape.
As Jack tells us, 'Room' (as he dubs his confines, as though it were a third member of the family) is only 'Room' when its door is closed, and Room is at its most effective in this first half. When the air is let into 'Room', it escapes from Room, and the film descends into Lifetime movie of the week territory as it follows Jack and Joy's attempts to adapt to the outside world.
Too many of Room's plot details are told, rather than shown, to us. The revelation that Joy's parents (Joan Allen and William H Macy) have separated in her absence is knocked off in a line of one of Jack's many voiceovers rather than showing us the moment when Joy made this discovery for herself. We learn that Joy's father is unable to look Jack in the eye, not by observing his awkwardness around the kid but through a dialogue exchange. Macy is then cruelly dismissed from the film, as though morally judged for an understandable weakness.
Much of the film's big moments rely on its players acting completely out of character, none more so than the escape itself, in which Old Nick doesn't bother to physically check whether Jack is actually dead or pulling a trick.
There are a number of characters in Room that could have been the sole focus of their own movie - Macy's father who can't remove the image of his daughter's abuse from his mind the most obvious - but when they're all thrown together we don't get the time to really invest in any of them. Room plays like a worthwhile character study from which all the most interesting moments - those occurring before and after its protagonists speak - have been edited out to accommodate an audience raised on talky TV dramas.
For all its narrative faults, Room does feature a handful of astounding performances. Considering his character is essentially the dog from I Am Legend, Tremblay is out of this world. Larson is impressive as always, but unfortunately for her, she's present in every one of the film's weakest scenes. Joan Allen does some lovely quiet work, and a late scene between herself and Tremblay is the standout moment, the first time the film's characters feel like genuine humans rather than soap opera players.
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