Sunday, November 15, 2015

OVP: Room (2015)

Film: Room (2015)
Stars: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, Sean Bridgers, Tom McCamus
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Oscar History: 4 nominations/1 win (Best Picture, Director, Actress-Brie Larson*, Adapted Screenplay)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 5/5 stars

We see these women on the news, the ones who have been kidnapped for years, people like Katie Beers and Elizabeth Smart, whose names for a brief moment litter the fronts of magazines and milk cartons, and when they are found are shown on morning talk shows around the country and in tell-all books that line Barnes & Noble front entryways.  Nancy Grace controversially turned into a celebrity on the backs of some of these cases, and Alice Sebold became a household name due to a novel reflecting national interest in them.  And yet, despite the clear public fascination in these tales, I don't think I've ever seen a fictionalized depiction quite like Room brought to the big-screen.  The film, based on the bestselling novel by Emma Donoghue, tells the story of Ma (aka Joy, played by Larson) who was kidnapped when she was seventeen and is forced to live in a small backyard shed with her son Jack (Tremblay) without ever leaving, consistently being raped and beaten by her captor.  The story tells the tale largely from Jack's perspective, and so we get to see the world through his prism, which is heavily clouded by an increasingly desperate Joy.  The film is a high-wire act, part intense thriller and part deeply moving coming-of-age story that never slips into being saccharine or hokey, but instead is richly grounded by the performances of all involved, and a script that finds a beautifully-felt, harsh balance.  It shouldn't work and should feel more like a TV movie, and yet it never does and is instead a rich, memorable cinematic experience.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film is largely split into two halves.  The first is centered on Ma and Jack's life in captivity, and the ways that Ma has sheltered Jack from the world, by telling him everything in TV is made-up and that there isn't really anything aside from space outside of the shed, and Old Nick (who is her captor that Jack thinks of more as a random Santa Claus because he brings food and presents) comes from space.  As a result, Jack learns to deeply love "Room" (the name of the shelter that they are staying in), and Ma stays alive by keeping her entire world focused on Jack's well-being.  As the film progresses, however, we see that Ma knows that her life here is slowly becoming in jeopardy; Old Nick is threatening to cut amenities to the two of them as he has lost his job, and even shuts down the power to teach Jack and Ma a lesson after Ma attacks Old Nick for trying to contact Jack (who stays hidden in a wardrobe when Old Nick is present).  Ma eventually comes up with a plan where Jack fakes his own death, and Old Nick takes him out to be buried, and while the truck is moving Jack rolls out of the rug he is wrapped in and jumps out of the truck.  The plan works in some fashion, though Old Nick nearly stops the escape in an extraordinarily high-wire moment of the film (my heart was racing throughout), and both he and Ma enter the real world.

The real world is an interesting moment for the two, as we learn that, despite Joy being originally from this universe (she was kidnapped when she was seventeen), it is in fact she who has the harder time acclimating because she was aware of what happened in Room while Jack, though intensely shy, has a natural curiosity about the world and isn't traumatized in the way that she was.  There's a scene late in the film, during one of those Dateline NBC style interviews where the host asks Joy about Jack, and whether she ever thought about getting him out and having her captor drop him off at a hospital or orphanage.  At this moment, the one thought that Joy was clinging toward (that she was doing all of the things she did to protect her son) come crashing down as she realized in many ways she kept him there for herself, and her world splinters apart with a suicide attempt.  The film progresses with her (offscreen) getting better, and coming to terms with the deep PTSD she has from "Room" and moving on with her life.

The film would not work without an incredibly nimble pair of performances from Tremblay and Larson.  Tremblay's role is extraordinarily difficult, and recalls in many ways the sheltered-world performance that won Quvenzhane Wallis an Oscar nomination a few years back for Beasts of the Southern Wild.  He's forcing us to live in his depiction of Room, and like Beasts, somehow manages to find a way to come across as earnest and interesting rather than cloying and annoying.  Dramatic films that center on child performances very frequently fail because the main actor cannot display both naturalism and still get across their character, becoming too precocious in the process; Tremblay avoids this trap, and as a result gives the best child performance I've seen onscreen since Wallis in 2012.  Larson, who was so incredible just two years ago in Short-Term 12, finds even more sincere depths as Ma.  There are scenes in the film that will leave your mouth gaping, like the first time she decides to shatter Jack's world in hopes of getting him to help her escape "Room" or the staggering internal struggle she shows when she realizes that she may have kept Jack in "Room" when she didn't have to do so.  Larson should have won an Oscar nomination two years ago for Short-Term 12 but sadly didn't.  Here, I think she'll be more successful.

The film itself is just wondrous as a result of these performances, and from the grounded writing/plot (Emma Donoghue, who wrote the novel, also translated to the screen which is occasionally a risky affair as novelist and screenwriter are decidedly different occupations, but here it helps translate well from book to movie).  The scoring is instantly iconic, the sort that never overpowers but you will always associate with the picture.  All-in-all, in a season that has admittedly been lacking in movies that I effusively recommend, I cannot get enough of Room, a must-see film featuring an actress that is slowly transforming into one of the best of her generation.

Those are my thoughts on this picture-what are yours?  I'd love to get the opinions of people who have both read the book and seen the movie, and what your thoughts are on its loyalty to the novel.  And what do you think Room, a film that is not really in the Academy's wheelhouse, will do with Oscar?  Share your comments below!

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