ROOM 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.
“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.
This 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.