Oct 23

“Room”: The Film to…Well, Make Some Room For

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.

The Trailer

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.”

Oct 18

“The Sessions”: Sexual Surrogacy, Based on Mark O’Brien’s Life

The Sessions. Sounds like this film is about therapy, doesn’t it? Well, it is. But not about the kind we usually think of.

The Sessions is based on the true story of a man, poet/journalist Mark O’Brien, who was paralyzed from the neck down at age six due to polio. He first wrote about his experiences pertinent to the movie in a 1990 article called “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate.” He died in 1999 at the age of 49.

Notably, director Ben Lewin is a polio survivor himself. Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter, describes the film, which hits some theaters tomorrow: “Using interior monologues to reveal the inner life of an essentially immobile man and interlacing levels that invoke religion, medicine, sex, psychology and art, writer-director Ben Lewin easily establishes audience sympathy for Mark (John Hawkes), a painfully thin man with an oddly twisted body who requires confinement to an iron lung for all but three or four hours per day.”

How does O’Brien get around? “(H)e’s wheeled on a gurney by a succession of assistants, principally Vera (the striking Moon Bloodgood). At 38, Mark figures that he’s ‘probably getting close to my due date’ and realizes that he’s never going to have sex unless he does something about it soon.”

Watch The Sessions trailer below, which introduces Mark’s relationship with his priest (William H. Macy) as well as his surrogate Cheryl (Helen Hunt):

Selected Reviews

Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter: “At once entirely frank and downright cuddly in the way it deals with the seldom-visited subject of the sex lives of people with disabilities…”

David Edelstein, New York Magazine: “The newest disability-of-the-week Oscar-bait picture is The Sessions, and it’s quirky and grounded enough to sneak past your more cynical defenses—the kind that would lead you, say, to label it a disability-of-the-week Oscar-bait picture.”

Roger Ebert: “‘The Sessions’ isn’t really about sex at all. It is about two people who can be of comfort to each other, and about the kindness that forms between them. This film rebukes and corrects countless brainless and cheap sex scenes in other movies. It’s a reminder that we must be kind to one another.”

Tomorrow, more about sexual surrogacy