I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Room

tn_roombestpictureROOM is a movie that would be better to know nothing about. I knew a little more than I should’ve, and that wasn’t too bad. But if you were planning on seeing it anyway, read this later.

It’s mostly a two-person movie: a mom (Brie Larson, GREENBERG) and her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay, THE SMURFS 2), who is turning five today. But they can’t go to Chuck E. Cheese or something because they live inside a small room that they can’t leave. It has no windows except for a skylight.

I wonder if they’ll do straight to video sequels like they did with CUBE. Hopefully they saved the set.

But they make do. She has the ingredients to make a humble birthday cake. No candles, though, which makes him cry. They decorate Room, as they call their world, with garbage, call objects by names like it’s Pee-wee’s Playhouse, do regular exercises and play games to keep their bodies and brains okay. They thread together a bunch of eggshells and draw a face on it: “Egg Snake is our longest and fanciest friend,” narrates Jack. Livin it up.

Like THE LOVELY BONES this is childish fantasy used as an escape from evil and tragedy. They don’t come out and say it at first, but Ma was kidnapped and locked in here at age 17, and gave birth two years later. So that tells you who the father is.

This is a traumatic movie. Note: do not read about the real case that inspired the novel it’s based on. The real story is even more horrible. But Ma (who’s name is Hope, as we should’ve guessed Joy) finds light in the darkness. Jack gives her a reason to live and to keep a strong face. The movie seems to argue that a great mother can protect a child from any situation. To keep him from being miserable she has raised him with a concocted reality where there is nothing past Room. He watches (crappy lo def) TV, but thinks it’s some other dimension or something. He doesn’t even know that dogs are real. When she decides it’s time to tell him the truth he angrily refuses to believe. It’s one of those talks, like “Santa Claus isn’t real” or “this is how babies are made,” that must be very difficult for a parent. But in this case she’s trying to quickly explain the existence of the entire world. Not easy.

The poster for ROOM seems like kind of a spoiler to me, so instead here is a photo of my bedroom
The poster for ROOM seems like kind of a spoiler to me, so instead here is a photo of my bedroom

“Old Nick” (Sean Bridgers, THE WOMAN, CHILDREN OF THE CORN II: THE FINAL SACRIFICE) is what she calls her captor. He’s a good illustration of the ol’ Banality of Evil. At first we just suspect there’s a kidnapper, then we hear him mentioned as “he” and “him,” then he comes in and we don’t get a look at his face, then we do and he’s just some dude. He’s played as if he’s unaware of being the bad guy. He treats it more like an unhappy marriage. He brings Jack a toy for his birthday and it disgusts Hope to give it to him. Nick probly doesn’t do it to mess with her head. He probly really believes he can still be a nice guy even after he’s done this. Look, we got off on the wrong foot… let me buy your kid a toy.

When (SPOILERS NOW) Joy decides it’s time to plan an escape it becomes incredibly tense. It would be hard enough for any kid to pull off, but a kid who’s never been outside before? Who only the other day found out there was even such a thing as outside? The extreme closeups capture his dizzy disorientation.

Once (SPOILER FREE-FOR-ALL FROM HERE ON) we get out of Room some things seem a little forced in my opinion: the reaction of the guy who sees Jack and calls the police, the overly-defeatist negativity of the male cop, the doctor giving her a bottle of pills instead of giving her the proper dosage, the extent to which locked-in-a-shed-since-17-Joy could instantly adjust to adult life. But then again I don’t know for sure how a real person reacts to that, and by this point I was so invested in the safety of the mother and son that I was willing to let it slide.

rifftrax_roomThis manages to be a pretty positive movie despite the subject matter, but it’s intense. In my opinion it is in poor taste that they did a live Rifftrax of it. But I know even the most vile speech is protected, which is why they got away with doing STARSHIP TROOPERS also. Anyway I had heard that this was a real crier, which it wasn’t really for me, but the part where I teared up a little was when the cop figured out how to locate the house based on the small amount of information Jack knew how to communicate. I was like, this is a really smart woman. Thank God!

And then there’s that dread, set up by Joy’s inability to convincingly tell Jack that she’ll see him later, that Old Nick will take out Jack’s escape on her.

In retrospect I wondered if Jack didn’t know a world existed outside of Room, where did he think Old Nick went for most of the week? But I think at that age, and especially being treated that way, you could come up with your own weird ways to make sense out of that.

This is one of those movies that come out every once in a while where it’s almost creepy how good a little kid is in it. Can you really say they’re natural actors, or is it a combination of luck and personality and good directors making them comfortable? I have no idea, but something worked with this kid. Larson got a best actress nomination (and already won the Golden Globe, SAG Award and BAFTA) and I think that’s well deserved. Not only does she go through an emotional journey – hiding her pain for the sake of her son, getting increasingly frustrated and desperate, then having to deal with the unexpected struggles of a new chapter in her life – but also she had to have been a big part of getting the performance out of this kid. There’s alot of them laughing and goofing around together in this tiny space that has to be real. Their performances are feeding off of each other.

The director is Lenny Abrahamson. He’s the Irish guy who did that movie FRANK last year, where Michael Fassbender wears a weird mask and plays music. Novelist Emma Donoghue adapted the script from her own book. It sounds like she had to add quite a bit, because the book is from Jack’s point of view. Here he narrates periodically, but we’re seeing most of it from an adult’s perspective. We’re picking up on Ma’s emotions that Jack isn’t.

Abrahamson and Donoghue both got Oscar nominations, and the movie was nominated for best picture, taking that slot of the smaller movie that nobody expects to win but it’s cool to be put on a pedestal with the big boys. That’s a nice thing about the modern Oscars with more best picture slots: one or two movies that did well at Sundance or something always get catapulted into many more households than they would otherwise.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 24th, 2016 at 10:06 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

22 Responses to “Room”

  1. Oh. So that’s what it’s about. That doesn’t sound so bad.

    Still a terrible title, though.

  2. I sencond the “So that’s what it’s about”. From the bits I’ve heard, I figured it would be some marital abuse drama from the viewpoint of the kid, who spends his days alone in his room and hears his parents fighting. At least I wasn’t as far off as with WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, which I thought was some kind of “Adult momma’s boy gets kicked out by its parents” indie comedy, based on the title alone.

  3. This is far and away my favourite of the best picture nominees. I honestly spent most of this film on the verge of tears, actually coming to them at one key point. Jacob Tremblay is just phenomenal, and I thought those lovely little vignettes where he describes how he sees the world were perfectly judged and written.

    SPOILERS

    The scene where Joan Allen is brushing the kid’s hair and he just comes out with those three little (but really big) words just slayed me, and I could not stop thinking about the film for days afterwards.

    Lenny Abrahamson is the real deal and I look forward to whatever he does next.

  4. I think it’s a good title for the movie, and not telling too much about what it’s about is a benefit. Also it’s the title of the book.

  5. But Vern, Avatar made NO impact on the culture as a whole and the sequels will come out and bomb and the Internet will finally be vindicated that they are the keepers of pop-culture!

  6. This movie hit me like a ton of bricks. The word traumatic is more than apt for the experience I had. I watched this on a plane to Hong Kong having left my wife and daughter behind in New Zealand as I had to get back to work. I’m not sure if it is a real thing or something that has been made up by the BBC Film 5 program but Altitude Adjusted Lachrymosity Syndrome hit me hard and I was openly sobbing loud enough that the air steward felt compelled to ask me if I was alright.
    The performances in this movie are insanely good. Tremblay gave a better performance than any other actor this year, though I fully understand Vern’s point about how it is difficult to know if this is a one-off deal or if the young man really understands his craft. Larson is better in this than she was in Short Term 12 (in which I thought she was also amazing) and is a really interesting actor to watch. I find her super compelling.
    Anyways, I thought it was incredible but I’m not sure I’ll watch it again. I thought I would try and cheer myself up by finally getting around to watching Inside Out. Bad decision. I was a mess from the moment the score started.

  7. I’m laughing my ass off picturing some kid with AVATAR sheets being laughed at by kids with STAR WARS sheets.

    What kid even knows what the fuck AVATAR is nowadays? (and before you say anything, 6 years is a long time to kids)

  8. Well, I don’t know about kids, but any adult would be proud to experience a full AVATAR themed bed set including color matched rug and Pandora backdrop, in my opinion.

  9. This one got me too, especially the part with the police woman – I can’t remember the last time I felt so relieved/elated by a movie scene! If it had ended just after that point it would also have been a great film. Loved it overall and it definitely stuck with me afterwards. My only real issue was the excessive orchestral soundtrack which at some moments it felt completely at odds with the tone of the film.

  10. I absolutely hated this movie, even (SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT) all the shit that takes place in Room before they plan Jack’s escape. So all the contrived, cliched, manipulative, convenient. unrealistic bullshit that they expect us to swallow following Jack bouncing out of Old Nick’s truck (apparently Old Nick uses his rear view mirror 0% of the time he drives) just drove me up the fucking wall.

    There’s lots more I didn’t like about it but I’m trying not to dwell on negativity at the moment and I will say this – in a packed theatre I was the *only* one not into it. Folks were gasping and moving around in their seats and crying. It was fascinating to watch – as I was rolling my eyes and contemplating leaving all these other people were absolutely immersed in what they were watching so I’m glad that most people seem to be over the moon for this thing even though I fucking hated it.

    If you are into the story and the characters and the setting I understand why you would be along for the ride. But to me, pretty much from the first scene, it was just an inorganic soap opera treatment of what could have been an overall interesting concept (BAD BOY BUBBY would be a good film to compare and contrast it with.)

    Again if you loved it I am genuinely happy for you as I’m not a fan of staring at something I hate for two hours and I go into every movie I see hoping to enjoy it.

  11. Shit guys – sorry if that spoiler warning wasn’t long enough and what showed up in the comments thread gave anything away to anybody.

  12. I believe her name was Joy, not Hope.

  13. Of course you’re right, Catherine. Thanks for the correction.

  14. As a reader first viewer second, I have only read the novel so far and despite the premise sounding silly it truly worked in the novel. Jack is a different – in good way- character and he is telling the story in his different way which pressed all my buttons and I was into it.

    SPOILERS

    The escape and the pills work in the novel. It never occurred to me to question the doctor giving the mother the bottle of pills (but I’m from a different country) but reading your review, it was a bad decision.

  15. Eliza – I think the thing with the pills was a matter of storytelling convenience. It makes sense that they would prescribe the pills for her and she would have them. But in the movie they have the doctor just hand her the bottle while she’s still a patient in the hospital. Having spent way too much time in hospitals with family members over the last few years I’m sure that a nurse would’ve given her the proper dosage while she was still in the hospital, so it took me out of the movie a little. Just a small thing.

  16. Well thanks 1-900-MIXALOT, I thought I must have been living in some alternate reality for a moment. A reality where my favourite critic openly applauds this exploitative piece of trash. I couldn’t watch all of it, but after the part where I stopped watching and frantically skipped through to the end in the hopes of finding a “based on a true story” at the credits I did watch a few parts.

    I guess they don’t do the whole “based on a true story” part at the end these days, is it kind of passé now?

  17. JONAS – sorry to hear that you found this to be as intolerable as I did but i don’t bemoan anyone else for liking it. It felt very transparently pandering and fraudulent and contrived to me but if it affected people who saw it and impacted them in an emotional / intimate / cinematic way then more power to them.

    It makes me feel weird sometimes being on the outside of the bubble of films like this. Anytime something that I despise is universally or even generally praised I really question pretty frequently if the issue is with me or with the thing that I am engaging with.

    My internal dialogue is always – if most people are on the same frequency with respect to a work of art and I’m *not* then maybe the issue is with me rather than the work of art in question. I’m never quite sure how to reconcile that but I certainly would never want to attack someone for feeling differently than I did about it.

    I’m just some asshole who genuinely liked most of FANTASTIC 4. I have no place talking about anything ever to be honest.

  18. Imagine my delight to be looking for reviews of this “film of cinema” and find that my old friend Vern is still at it long after I gave up not just movie reviewing, but blogging as well. I recently moved to North Carolina where I joined a neighborhood book club, and “Room” was the book of the month. So I read it, went to the discussion, and then saw this movie. For those who haven’t read the book — the life described by Jack before the escape is much longer and much more involved — so much so that if I hadn’t had to read it for book club, I’d have tossed the book and said “This is going nowhere and it is just too twee.” There’s a fair amount of post-escape stuff that’s left out, mostly that Joy and Jack live in a kind of halfway house for a while; they don’t go right back to Joy’s mother’s house. But overall, it’s a very good adaptation. Good point, Vern, about whether little Jacob Tremblay is really that good an actor or if his obvious delight in the company of Brie Larson pulled it out of him. I’ll tell you though — the scene where she starts telling him about the real world and he doesn’t want to believe…and he turns away but his eyes are still on her…and the scene where Ma is “Gone” and he has to amuse himself making shadow puppets and dancing? That’s Gael Garcia Bernal in “Rosewater”-caliber acting.

    PS — I still have my copy of “5 On the Outside.” And I still meant everything I said in that introduction, even though you hated it. :-) Hope this finds you well, my old friend.

  19. Hi Jill! Jill wrote the introduction to my very first self published book. And recruited me to my first critics group. Good to hear from you!

  20. Glad Brie Larson won the Oscar for her performance as Det. Jane Room.

  21. I didn’t hate this as much as a few of you here, but I did feel like something was missing, especially because at this point most people know what it’s about and what happens, and the movie doesn’t really give us much more than that (besides great acting and some strong filmatism, but i was left unsatisfied story-wise).

    *SPOILERS* I’m having trouble phrasing why i was disappointed but I’ll try – I guess a “typical” Hollywood movie might have the kid escape and go on a journey to get help and help the police find the mom while she’s still imprisoned, After Earth-style, and then they reunite at the end, etc… Or it would have them escape fairly early (like they do here) and then at the end the kidnapper comes back after them with a big violent showdown or something. Obviously this isn’t that kind of movie, which is fine, and they instead go with the Cast Away/Deer Hunter model where they come back to society with alot of time left in the film to explore their PTSD and adjustment to regular life. Cool, i’m still on-board. But if you’re going to go that route, you better make sure some good stuff happens after they escape. This one just seems to spin its wheels with alot of dropped threads and storylines and not much of an ending. Realistic? I guess. Dramatically unsatisfying? Definitely.

    ex) There’s a subplot about William H. Macy (Ma’s father) not accepting her son, a child born of rape. It’s a great dilemma, especially because we love the kid but we can also understand where Macy’s coming from. But the movie brings this up and it’s never mentioned again (I’m pretty sure Macy just disappears from the movie after this scene). I’m not asking for it to be tied up in a neat little bow and have Macy accept him by the time the credits roll, but I’d prefer my subplots not dropped in the same scene as they’re introduced. There’s alot of talk about lawyers and legal bills and a trial and testifying in court and none of that ever happens; the movie just seems to stop instead of having an ending in the way most low-budget indies do which I found bold a long time ago but I pretty much expect it now. It seemed like there’s a lot left on the cutting room floor, sort of like the best friends in the yearbook (apparently they actually did film a scene where Ma reunites with them) and the random refusal of breastfeeding at the end even though the movie never really explained she was breastfeeding him the whole time.

    Sidenote: Not sure if this is the appropriate movie, but I totally thought the news reporter/interviewer (Wendy Crewson) was Sela Ward, which would have put this in the same movie universe as Gone Girl, right?

  22. @nealtozod,

    They escape, they’re elated. But suddenly – because they are humans with emotions – they must come to grips with what has happened (Ma especially). Therefore I don’t feel that the lawyers and the trials and the media stories are all that important. What matters is the emotion journey of the characters.

    I do agree with you about the William H. Macy thing, though. For an actor of that caliber to show up, then disappear, was strange. Also, despite whatever (justified) feelings he has about Jack being the result of rape, wouldn’t he want to at least be around his daughter? I have a daughter and I CAN’T IMAGINE keeping my distance like that, if something like this were to ever happen. So I agree with you there.

    And I do feel like many things were not said by characters that could’ve been. Lots of family tension. But better to have less than more, in my opinion. I’ll always remember Harrison Ford describing how they nixed most of his waterfall scene with Tommy Lee Jones in THE FUGITIVE. Ford goes (I’m paraphrasing), “Really it came down to TWO things. I didn’t kill my wife, and I don’t care.”

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