Room – Review

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Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, William H. Macy, Joan Allen, Sean Bridgers, Matt Gordon
Based on the novel of the same name and adapted for the screen by: Emma Donaghue
Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson
IMDb Score: 8.3 (#124 out of the Top 250 movies of all time)
Metacritic Score: 85
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Winner of the Academy Awards for Best Actress (Brie). Nominated for 3 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay

Rated R for language

Precious. Schindler’s List. 12 Years a Slave. Umberto D. These films have one thing in common: they are movies that are meant to be watched once.

And only once.

That’s because the movie has scenes, or just a feel, that warrants only one viewing for you to remember the film. They make you feel bad or make you feel uncomfortable. They are just experiences that you watch and never want to go back to again.

So, here’s Room, about a girl named Joy (Larson) and her son Jack (Tremblay) who are locked into a small room by Old Nick (Bridgers). Joy has been in the room for 7 years, where she was repeatedly abused and raped by Nick. The movie takes place around Jack’s 5th birthday and shows Joy’s attempt to escape from Old Nick.

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The film, told in the perspective of Jack, reminds me of films like All is Lost and Cast AwayRoom wants you to feel the claustrophobia of being in the room so when she finally is released from that room, you feel the sense of freedom as well.

Well, it’s supposed to make you feel it. It’s too bad that it misses the mark on that aspect of the film. Room only gives you 1/4th of the film inside that room, and while it gives you a sense of the smallness of the place itself, it doesn’t really give you the feeling of claustrophobia or loneliness that is fully required to let you feel that desperation.

It’s weird: before watching the film, the last thing I really wanted to watch was a movie about someone being tortured, raped and a kid being abused throughout the film. Yet, the film doesn’t really do enough to make you feel uncomfortable or unsettled. 

Am I asking for rape, torture and child abuse? Not necessarily. And sure, with the film being set through the mindset of Jack, the child isn’t (and doesn’t) know about what is going on with Joy and Old Nick.

But, the film does another key thing wrong that hampers the emotional heft of the film: it kind of cheats the concept of Jack’s perspective. 

In fact, the film doesn’t feel like it has a perspective at all, save for some narration by the child. The film doesn’t really give the perspective good ground: it chooses where it wants to be effective, honestly.

It might be the excuse needed not to show the more sordid details, but it doesn’t offer anything unique to make the perspective viable. Meaning: without the narration, you wouldn’t know that there was a perspective to view the movie from.

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It’s a shame, because the performance of Jacob Tremblay is simply outstanding: quite possibly the best since Anna Paquin in The Piano. His performance is one of the most in-depth for a child actor that it outshines his Oscar winning co-actor Brie Larson.

The movie is starving for a connection and what you don’t get from Larson and her character Joy, Tremblay’s Jack gives the movie a character you can connect with.

There’s a scene in the film with Tremblay and co-star Joan Allen, talking about the room he lived in for the past 5 years. It’s a scene that is easily missed and could be cuttable, but Tremblay has a great handle on the scene.

Whereas other child actors would garner sympathy with a over gestured facial expression or a director would rely on the adult actor to grab a hold on the scene as the point of reference, but Tremblay is the focal point. He carries this scene, and a lot others, to make his character and performance memorable and surprisingly warm and powerful. 

Finally, since it was mentioned, let’s get to Brie Larson’s performance. Now, it’s understandable that the character is in a distressing situation and to show the deterioration of that character.

That said, Brie Larson’s performance isn’t one that one would call memorable or watchable. In fact, one could say it’s somewhat bad. 

Now, this isn’t helped by the writer or director for two reasons: first, the “vantage point” of which the movie is supposedly set under (Jack) means that the pathos of the character and her plight isn’t shown in its darker moments. In fact, scenes that would have given Larson that shot at a great scene are jettisoned due to the shift.

This is where my beginning comments stem from. Larson seems capable of making a great performance; but she was essentially taken out of it due to the film’s perspective.

The second point is that Larson’s character, Joy, is more of a cipher of what they post traumatic stress disorder would look like after all she’s been through rather than a character with real pathos and personality dealing with a horrible problem.

Here’s the third: the actual film doesn’t feel bad for Joy at all. It is an interesting point to look at too: you have this character that was raped, victimized and mentally broken down, and the film doesn’t even portray her in any sort of good light. At one point, she is questioned as being selfish for not putting her son’s well-being first (in an scene that I’m shocked wasn’t cut from the film) and she’s yelled at for being selfish, churlish and, again, self-evolved.

It’s like the film wants you to think that, despite the horrors she has been through, she kinda deserves what’s coming. 

Some may call it a stretch to think this way about the film because, well, there is just no way a movie would even attempt this. But Room does attempt this. Hell, it flat out accuses her of it. Did my heart wrench for the character? Yes, but it did if it happened to ANYONE in this situation.

Let’s wrap this back around: Brie Larson’s performance isn’t that great…but how could it be? With these three specific points, not even Meryl Streep could make this character into anything but a cipher or a bitch.

So, as much as Larson misses the mark in this movie, she’s greatly hampered by questionable writing and directing.

This movie being written by the author of the book this is based on, no less.

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It’s really hard for me to tell someone to see a movie where a young girl is kidnapped, raped and forced to live in a shed while raising the baby that was sired by her rapist, even if it is an outstanding film.

But, save for the stellar Jacob Tremblay, it certainly can’t be recommended with some of its messages and its choice of portraying the main female lead. 

The film has a problem with direction, whether it wants to stick with its vantage point, cheat that focal point, or question whether you should feel bad for the main female character. It does none of these convincingly: almost to a point of unknowingly damning its chief victim.

The Wiz Says #65

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