It is a strange occurrence when a film brings you to tears. I won’t pretend to be a tough person by claiming to have the ability to not be brought to tears. There are a few films that made me a complete emotional wreck, and while I may not be overly sensitive to the tricks filmmakers play on us to elicit emotions, I am most certainly able to realize when filmmaking comes together just right, so that the audience feels some kind of deep emotional connection. It can sometimes be considered manipulation – how dare a filmmaker try and play on our emotions? Unfortunately, the manipulation of emotions happens far too often, and it can become truly redundant and cliched. However, when it is done right, it is splendid and truly deserves praise. Room is a film that deserves great amounts of praise for a vast amount of reasons, including how emotionally resonant it is.
I have to start this off by saying that Room is based on a bestselling novel by Emma Donoghue, that unfortunately I haven’t read, yet my brother has, and to have his perspective on the book and the film concurrently really helped add a new level of brilliance to this film. It seems to be, from his reaction, a film that is strikingly close to the original novel, which is an absolutely rare occurence in the modern age of filmmaking. With a few small inconsisenties and a few artistic liberties, it was certainly not a carbon copy of the book, but it seems to be considered relatively close to the source material, which is an honorable thought, until you realize that Emma Donoghue herself wrote the screenplay, and then things are put into a little more perspective. It is a divisive subject regarding if an author should have some kind of involvement in the film adaptations of their books, or if they should just allow the filmmakers to use their vision to guide the film. It is a contentious issue – some authors prefer to have script approval (such as Thomas Pynchon with last year’s Inherent Vice), others (like Donoghue) prefer to write the screenplay, and then a few take it to the next level, such as Stephen Chbosky, who wrote and directed the adaptation of his novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I won’t make a decision regarding if Donoghue did a good thing by being a vital part of this film, but I will say it was very effective and her ability to transform her book into a compelling screenplay is honorable to say the least.
In a film where the focus is pretty much only two people, you need talented actors for the parts. In the role of Joy “Ma” Newsome, Brie Larson is wonderful. She is known amongst indie film lovers for her great work in independent cinema (which allows a film like Room to be right in her wheelhouse) and this is her first notable film that will hopefully launch her into superstardom, and with her hilarious performance in Trainwreck, she is having a great breakout year. Her performance as Joy is restrained, intense and heartbreaking. The audience sees a woman who has matured, locked in a small shed, where she becomes the slave of a ruthless criminal intent on making her life as terrible as possible. It is a very effective performance that Larson does wonderfully, and a role like this requires considerable restraint, to allow for Joy to appear strong at heart, weak at appearance. This film reminds me of Jennifer Lawrence’s breakout performance in Winter’s Bone, a similarly chilling and heartbreakingly human drama about surviving difficult conditions. One can only hope that Larson is as successful as Lawrence has become since, but I have a feeling that Larson definitely will, because her performance in Room is definitely one for the ages.
However, the best performance of the film comes from Jacob Tremblay as Jack, Joy’s son who was born in the room, a product of Joy’s kidnapper raping her. Tremblay gives perhaps the best performance of the year as Jack. I honestly was not expecting much from him. I am hesitant with child actors, as their main purpose is to look adorable and supplement the adult leads. Little did I know, Tremblay was the lead, and Larson was the one supplementing him. He was also very adorable and endearing in the role as the naive, curious Jack, but that was far from the extent of his performance. He actually gave one of the best child actor performances in a great many years, and he was so brilliant, you forget that you’re watching a child actor, but rather a true portrayal of the sense of wonder children feel. I was completely blown away by Tremblay, who I was just expecting to give another meaningless, but adorable, performance by a child. I have never been so happy to be wrong, because this proves that child actors are far more capable of just looking cute and grinding off one-liners, but that they can give complex performances and play very interesting characters that can carry an entire film. I just hope Tremblay receives more quality work, and doesn’t sink to the depths of the Disney Channel, because he deserves so much more.
Room is unlike any film I’ve seen in a long time. It is truly a very compelling drama that covers many issues – first and foremost, the subject of mother-and-son relationships are put in the forefront here. There is no reason for Joy to love her son. He was unintended, and he is a reminder of the room she has been held captive in for seven years. He is a part of her, but also a part of her captor, who keeps her locked up and rapes her nightly. However, she loves her son unconditionally, and rejects the idea that he was an accident, and that her captor is the father, because a father loves their child. The chemistry between Larsona and Tremblay is palpable, and very poignant, and it is one of the very few flawless portrayals of the mother-and-son relationship that seems true to life. Another important issue this film raises is that of crime, and the way society views it – Joy and Jack are products of criminal activity, after Joy was kidnapped by “Old Nick”. As with this frankly terrifying trend in real life, the community is worried and hold vigils and do their best to help…but after a while, they move on with their lives. Humans don’t always care very much about long-term issues, and they choose to help when it is fresh in their mind. The fact that Joy was locked in that room for seven years shows that the goodwill of people only extends a certain length before fading away, only to be brought back when the rescue of Joy and Jack occurs. Donoghue makes some very subtle attacks on this aspect of the community, and it is refreshing to see it appear as real as it is, because many other films about similar subjects portray the community as being in a permanent candelight vigil until the crisis is resolved, which isn’t necessarily the case in real life. This film is truly compelling in the way that it shows the true side of humanity, and for that, it is a terrifyingly real portrait of the way our society operates in the time of crisis.
Room will make you cry. It certainly made me weep. However, it is a hopeful, uplifting story that will leave you shocked at how beautifully made, and perfectly acted it is. Jacob Tremblay is an absolute revelation, and gives one of the best performances of the year. It is an amazing film, and I truly suggest everyone gives it a try. It raises some important questions, but also shows us a side to humanity very rarely seen before in film, which is a fantastic achievement. Lenny Abrahamson has a great career ahead of him in Hollywood, and Room should shine a light on one of the most underrated filmmakers working today. A brilliant achievement and a film everyone should watch.