Room full movie review - "This is the story you get"
Here's the catch-22 with sexual violence: we need to talk about it, but we don't want to. Can you blame us?
It's horribly omnipresent in society, but disturbingly easy to largely overlook out of convenience, between those shameful deniers who live in a sunshine-and-rainbow-unicorns world where only consensual sex happens, and those who are all too aware of the tragic rates of sexual assault, but wouldn't mind an understandable break from contemplating its awfulness. Factoring in all those folks, and the poor, article-challenged audiences wandering into the wrong screening carrying spoons and bellowing "YOU'RE TEARING ME APAAAAAAART, LISA!!!", it wouldn't be a surprise to consider Room a hard-sell as a carefree Friday night at the movies.
Thankfully, Irish-Canadian author-turned-screenwriter Emma Donoghue has neatly nipped the paradox in the bud by extending the 'only poetry can properly explicate the hidden depths of trauma' maxim to the next level. Room is innately a powerful, necessary, even beautifully moving story of suffering, survival, resilience, and rebuilding. But filtered through the eyes of a child? A masterpiece.
Situating five-year old Jack as narrator not only raises the stakes to almost unbearable dimensions - not only must they survive and escape, but Jack must not know - but gives us a far less graphic or painful 'indirect narrator' through which to focalize and make sense of the nuances of his and his Ma, Joy's imprisonment. Director Lenny Abrahamson allows Jack's whimsical boisterousness to shape the film, and the cameras and music mirror his exuberant attention span, bouncing around every corner of the enclosed set with the lilting dance of a surrealist fairy tale. Abrahamson imbues his film with such life that it's easy to empathize with Jack believing Room to be the entirety of existence beyond the fantasies of heaven and TV (and all without any of the tacky, exploitative FX interludes of Peter Jackson's take on The Lovely Bones). There is darkness here as well, even if Jack may not understand the full ramifications of the ominous creaking ensuing from the weekly visits from their grimy caretaker, but his accepting this as part of the fabric of life, in turn, makes it easier for us to bear as well, without lessening the traumatic context in the slightest.
In fact, Abrahamson handles the first half of Room with such deft, immaculate precision that we're too busy in survival mode to fully let it all sink in. Cherishing each fleeting scrap of Jack and Ma's happiness, and bemoaning the petty squabbles which infest their relationship, there's almost a palpable feeling of "if we keep it together and hold on, they will too". It's only upon Jack's escape - and I dare you to find a more unbearably tense sequence in recent memory - and immersion into the overstimulating sensory flurry of an outside world he previously disavowed the existence of, that we start to feel release. It's only when we are given threads of hope to cling to - that Jack could bounce back, and actually be okay - that we, like Ma, are permitted to finally break, to let go, to grieve, and to rejoice.
Donoghue's piercing, conversational screenplay teases out the ripple effects of Jack and Joy's release with gently unflinching care: the inevitable madhouse of paparazzi attention; Jack has no conception of how to play with toys, and requires sunscreen at all times due to his skin's lack of outdoor exposure; Joy's father, who cannot look at his grandson out of what he represents (wonderful William H. Macy at his most heartbreakingly earnest); her mother and new partner desperately striving for normalcy (the pristinely warm and sturdy Joan Allen and Tom McCamus). And just when we start clawing for a continual crescendo of hope, we're subjected to a talk show host interviewing Joy with a winsome, rage-inducing, abominable lack of tact Harry Potter fans will immediately associate with the similarly despicable Dolores Umbridge. Who knew Donoghue could conjure up a character more hateable than Joy's rapist.
But, deft plotting and immaculate directing aside, Room as a triumphant two-hander. Brie Larson, having just closed an awards circuit with a hat-trick of accolades, still manages to exceed expectations with an incomparably brave performance, allowing her to play strong, vibrant, caring and clever, but brittle, frayed, and, essentially, very young - often all with a single look, or defeated slouch. Still, Room is Jack's story, and eight-year old Jacob Tremblay carries the film with an overwhelming talent unseen in almost any of his older contemporaries. There's never a moment of Jack that doesn't feel agonizingly real, and Tremblay's use of eye contact, or avoidance thereof, allows so much of a richer entry point into Jack's soul than even his endearingly shrill voice and fidgety physicality - he plays Jack as fundamentally unshowy and real, and is all the more captivating amidst the absurd circumstances he's surrounded by. It's arguably the most impressive performance of the year, and will unquestionably stand the test of time as one of the most powerful child actor performances ever captured on film.
Unassuming and harrowingly stripped-down, hugely emotional, yet never false or saccharine, Room was a quieter entry into the 2015 awards circuit, yet by far the year's most haunting and essential work. It's utterly devastating, and yet, in unexpected ways, also certain to make your world a little brighter. When we, alongside Jack and Joy, say "bye" to Room, it's with a similar mixture of a heavy heart, tears, and unsettling regret that we let go of a world so horrific yet beautiful. Room reminds us to appreciate and cherish what's dear - and where better to start than with such an unforgettably human piece of cinema.