“Are we in another planet?’ asks a five-year-old Jack (an astonishing Jacob Tremblay) in earnest to his mother, having awoke beside her in an unfamiliar hospital room. Only the day before, Jack and his mother, Joy (a superb Brie Larson in her best role since Short Term 12), made a soaring exodus from the one-room dungeon they’d been in for over half a decade, and there’s so much Jack needs to understand now that he’s at last unfettered.
Room is their story and it’s told with great diligence and largesse by director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank) and screenwriter Emma Donoghue, based off her 2010 novel.
Room opens on Jack’s fifth birthday, being spent in the only home he’s ever known, a 10-by-10-foot, windowless (except for a grimy skylight) chamber, actually a shed.
The mother-and-child connection is nobly depicted and the interplay between Tremblay and Larson lands like a lightning bolt, it’s that powerful and pure. Their extraordinary performances are certainly behind Room’s recent bestowal of the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, and it’s warranted.
To stave off hysteria and offer a semblance of hope, Joy provides Jack with a strange cosmology out of necessity that “room” is the world, all that shelters them from space. But, as he gets older and more capable, and their prospects for survival ever ephemeral she begins to imbue him with the truth as well as an exit strategy. It’s a lot for the little guy to take and his bravery in the face of the unknown and impossible dangers is shattering.
Abrahamson is certainly most adept at eliciting strong performances, not just from the tremendous captivation and grace between Larson and Tremblay, obviously and undeniably they comprise the marrow of the movie, but they are ably braced by Joan Allen, Tom McCamus, William H. Macy, and a thoroughly reprehensible turn from Sean Bridgers as their subduer, Old Nick.
As Room progresses it becomes all the more emotionally turbulent, and the build up to liberation and the flight to safety is a nerve-racking and open-mouthed affair. It’s luminously simple, and persistently lyrical — the story is compassed in narration from Jack, though this tactic doesn’t feel like a crutch as voice overs often do — perhaps only ever stymied by pedestrian platitudes.
It’s a shame, actually, that a film that gets so many things bang on the money resorts to clichéd orchestral swelling and a vapid crane shot to tell the audience to feel impassioned, especially when most of us had already gone through a case of Kleenex by that point.
If it’s essential for a film’s greatness that it contain two or more indelible set-pieces; Room is teeming with them and harbors a moving and dactylic monument to maternal sufferance. Room is uncrowded in its greathearted equanimity. Breathtaking.
Taste of Cinema Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)