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Room is the heartbreaking story of a young woman, Joy Newsome (Brie Larson), who was kidnaped at age seventeen and held in a storage shed for seven years by a man she knows only as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). The only thing that means anything to her, is her five year-old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who was conceived from Nick’s nightly visits. All Jack has known is captivity inside the four walls of what they call ‘room’ and after a daring escape, he and his mother are finally free. Now Jack has to get used to a whole new world he has never known and his mother must re-acclimate to a world she never thought she’d see again.
Lenny Abrahamson tells a powerful story from Emma Donoghue’s script adapted from her book. The first half of the film paints a harrowing portrait of captivity and the crushing acceptance by the subject of her situation. At the same time we get the perspective of a child born in that captivity, who knows nothing else. If not for the love of her child, Joy might never think at this point of escape, but does so that Jack may be free. Once they do escape ‘room’ it becomes a powerful tale of a young woman trying to readjust to a world that has drastically changed while she was away, such as her parents’ divorce and that she last saw her home as a teenager. On top of that it’s a story of a young child discovering a whole new world he’s never seen before and it’s a little overwhelming for both of them. Add in the pressure from the media to make them a news sensation and Joy’s father’s (William H. Macy) rejection of Jack because of how he came to be and there is a lot of emotional turmoil. Abrahamson tells the story skillfully and without overdone melodramatics. The subject of Nick’s repeated rape of the now compliant Joy is done so deftly, that it is far more powerful than if the moments were portrayed far more graphically. A lot of the film is very subtle and while it does have some strong dramatic moments, the director resists taking advantage of the emotional weight of what unfolds and never makes it manipulative. Our emotional reactions are genuine, not provoked as in the cookie cutter, feel-good flicks Hollywood likes to churn out. It’s far more gratifying to feel strongly because of what you are watching unfold, than to have things unfold specifically to elicit a strong emotion rather than narrative necessity.
The cast, especially our leads, is fantastic. Brie Larson deserves the accolades she has gotten for her role as Joy. She gives the part such a subtle strength as we watch her try to be the best mom she can while held captive in that room. Once free, she conveys the complex emotions of readjusting to the world with simple facial expressions and body language. Again, all this is accomplished without overblown melodramatic moments, Larson is most effective in Joy’s quieter moments with simple glances and looks. Young Jacob Tremblay is simply amazing as young Jack. He is simply perfect as a little boy raised in a very confined space, yet still eager and imaginative, creating his own little world. Once outside, he portrays a little boy both awestruck and afraid at the breadth of his new surroundings and terrified that what was familiar to him is now gone. He is simply brilliant, all the more so for being just eight years old when this began filming. Joan Allen gives a strong performance as Joy’s mother, a woman who is trying to be patient and supportive of her returned daughter and her new grandson as they adjust to life back at home…or in a new home in Jack’s case. Macy is only onscreen in a limited role, but his selfish refusal to accept little Jack does elicit strong reaction thanks to the actors intense portrayal of this rejection. Sean Bridges is also only onscreen briefly, but we get a sleazy and domineering individual in Old Nick whom may not be the focus here, but the strong characterization makes the oppressive atmosphere of ‘room’ believable.
A great movie without a doubt. An oft told story from a unique perspective that draws emotions out of you with sheer story telling and not plotted manipulation. Add in two brilliant performances from Brie Larson and her young costar Jacob Tremblay and you have a powerful and satisfying drama about how love does indeed conquer all.