Room Review

Posted: November 25, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

roomWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Sometimes greatness can come from unexpected places. Last year, I saw Frank; a little film from director Lenny Abrahamson which had received some positive buzz. I remember thinking the film was a fairly amusing project with some good ideas that never really came together perfectly. All told I didn’t give Abrahamson much thought. Fast forward to a year later and a movie called Room is quickly becoming the most highly praised film of the Toronto International Film Festival. That of course, caught my attention, but it wasn’t until weeks later that I clued in Lenny Abrahamson was the director. I never would have expected the guy capable of making one of the year’s best films but Room has proven me wrong.

As a seventeen year old, Joy Newsome (Brie Larson) is kidnapped by a middle-aged man who keeps her locked in a shed (furnished into a sort of makeshift apartment) for several years and repeatedly rapes her. During her captivity, Joy becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son named Jack. Struggling to raise Jack in such an environment, Joy tells him that “Room” is the entire world, with things find in TV and books coming from other planets. When the film opens, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) is five years old and he and his mother have a certain routine. Jack is largely unaware of the horrors his mother faces, and in the day when the two are left alone their lives almost take on some normalcy. But as their captivity continues, Joy starts to realize she can’t protect Jack forever and they must escape.

The premise of a mother trying to raise a child while held in captivity is pretty intriguing. The daily routine of life in room is well-realized both by Emma Donoghue’s script (based on her own novel) and Abrahamson’s visualization, but the real treat here is the relationship between Joy and her son. Both characters are very well-developed and easy to embrace, in large part due to strong performances. Brie Larson has been slowly making a name for herself in the last few years. I’ve missed a lot of these films, but if Room is any indication I’ve been missing out. Larson is fantastic here, building a complete character who’s wholly sympathetic. Larson is so good at being a strong mother that when she reveals her more vulnerable side its all the more powerful. This is a person who was abducted at seventeen after all, and as such never had the chance to develop emotionally properly. It’s a great performance, through and through. Jacob Tremblay has also made waves for his performance as young Jack and it’s well-earned. This is a very authentic performance and Tremblay manages to be a gripping presence without every falling into precocious tendencies. The supporting cast is also rounded out nicely by the likes of Joan Allen, Sean Bridges, and Tom McCamus.

In addition to the cast, the film’s other greatest attribute is its masterful control over tone. Room walks a tricky line of dealing with some really dark subject matter while actually being an inspiring story of hope and love. It would have been really easy for the darkness of the premise to overtake the whole and for the film to become an exercise in misery. At the same time, the story runs the risk of underplaying the darkness and overselling the sentimental aspects. Either result would have seriously hindered the whole, but somehow the film is able to balance both pretty effectively. Part of this is due to the perspective being largely that of a young child who does not really comprehend the horror of his situation. At the same time, Donogue and Abrahamson provide enough that the darkness of the story is never forgotten. It’s interesting that my biggest problem with Frank was its inability to control its tone, and yet when the stakes are far higher in Room¸ Abrahamson absolutely nails it.

The film is divided into two distinct halves. I won’t go into spoilers about what specifically separates them (even if the trailers do) but in a nutshell the second half is more about exploring the psychological ramifications of the pair’s captivity. In some ways, this is where the real heart of the movie is and deals with some really great material. However this also where my two (minor) complaints come in. Joy goes through a pretty interesting arc here, but her story is almost entirely cast aside at this point to focus solely on Jack. Jack’s story arc is quite interesting and very important, but I would have liked to see more from Joy. Additionally, something about the ending felt a little unsatisfying. It isn’t quite bad, but it just feels like there’s something missing.

All told, Room lives up to the hype; this is easily one of the best movies I’ve seen all year. It’s a very well-made film with some excellent performances and an engaging story. I can understand why some audiences would be cautious of a film which deals heavily in rape and abduction, but I’d urge most everyone to give Room a chance. Yes, it deals with some unpleasant material, but it’s also a very inspiring story which achieves emotional sentimentality honestly and with grace.


  1. Dan O. says:

    Good review Dan. It’s heartfelt and emotional, but never rings a false note.

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