Because of the subject matter, a movie like Lenny Abrahamson‘s Room, adapted from Emma Donoghue‘s bestselling 2010 novel by the author herself, will not be readily received by everyone. But many critics want us to try.
“Too grim and heartbreaking for some viewers, Room is nevertheless an extraordinary film so powerful and unforgettable that it must be seen,” says Rex Reed, New York Observer.
Others are largely in agreement, not only about the high quality of the film itself but also about the powerful performances.
The gist: Jack (Jacob Tremblay), now five years old, has always lived in a small garden shed, imprisoned, with his Ma (Brie Larson).
As Chris Nashawaty, EW.com, elaborates, “Their jailor is a brutal sadist named Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), who grants and withholds privileges depending on his whims. How long have they been in this room? What cruel fate put them here? The movie doles out these answers slowly, making us feel as disoriented as these doomed souls in confinement.”
Although some, including Nashawaty, indicate that further info about the plot constitutes spoilers, others recognize that many viewers will already have accessed certain info from the trailer and/or press and/or reading the book. But if none of the above applies, the following may not be for you.
Basically, the first “act” is their Room experience, the second their escape toward Joy’s (Ma’s) parents (Joan Allen, William H. Macy).
The First Act
Amy Nicholson, Village Voice:
To keep Jack calm, his mom convinces him that the world on TV is make-believe. All dogs are fake, the ocean is fake, the other people are just ‘made of colors.’ Their room — or, as he calls it, ‘Room,’ the same way we say ‘America’ or ‘Earth’ — is the only reality.
The twist is, to Jack it’s not that bad…
Susan Wloszczyna, rogerebert.com:
As for Ma, her whole focus is on Jack’s well-being and rarely her own. She ignores a painful rotting tooth in her mouth until it falls out and it immediately becomes one of her son’s most prized possessions. She is endlessly resourceful, turning cardboard toilet paper rolls and egg shells connected by string into playthings. For her, Jack is her anchor and her reason to carry on.
The Second Act
Justin Chang, Variety:
…Abrahamson and Donoghue invite and achieve an uncommon level of audience identification as they give due weight to their characters’ post-traumatic stress disorder. Their story implores us to consider the normal or expected passages to adulthood — the gradual separation from one’s parents, the growing sense of self-sufficiency, the ability to put away childish things, the understanding that what we are losing is (hopefully) being matched by what we are gaining — and to realize the impossible situation that now confronts Jack. Yet a subtle, provocative question also rises to the surface, slyly articulated in a scene where his mother wistfully scans the photos of her former classmates in a high-school yearbook: With their comparably blessed, sheltered, mundane lives, were they really that much better off?
Susan Wloszczyna, rogerebert.com:
Jack especially thrives in the company of his grandmother (Joan Allen, whose smile alone gives a boost to the film’s last third). She got divorced in the wake of her daughter’s disappearance and has a new man in her life, the good-natured Leo (Tom McCamus) who patiently guides and encourages Jack. If there is a weak link in ‘Room,’ it is William H. Macy, who is too predictably cast as Joy’s father, ill-equipped to handle her reappearance, let alone the news that he now has a grandson.
Selected Reviews and Take-Aways
Chris Nashawaty, EW.com: “Room is the kind of spare and lean film that lives or dies depending on its performances. Fortunately, Larson and Tremblay are remarkable…Room may not be a pleasant place to spend two hours, but it’s an unsettling experience you won’t forget.”
Dana Stevens, Slate: “Though it goes to places as dark as any you could imagine, Room carries at its heart a message of hope: Two people in four walls can create a world worth surviving for, if they love each other enough.”
Susan Wloszczyna, rogerebert.com: “’Room’ is a soul-searing celebration of the impenetrable bond that endures even under the most unbearable of circumstances between a parent and a child.”