Room (A24, R)

film room_smDon’t read the rest of this review. Just go see the movie, and come back and do those other things later.




film room

I’m a big supporter of the notion that, once you’ve decided you’re definitely going to see a movie, you should do the best you can not to learn anything more about it. That means no trailers, no movie reviews, no interviews with the filmmakers; neither the plot synopsis on Netflix nor the back of the DVD case: nothing. But, if you haven’t made up your mind yet, most of these things are fair game to help you decide if the movie is one you should set aside time for or not.

Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, adapted by Emma Donoghue from her bestselling novel of the same name, is difficult in this regard, so let’s start here: You should probably just see the movie. It’s going to be a big awards contender, audiences are going crazy for it (it won the People’s Choice at the Toronto International Film Festival, a prize previously won by such heavy-hitters as The Imitation Game, 12 Years a Slave, Amelie, American Beauty, The Princess Bride…I could go on), and it is a good movie. Don’t read the rest of this review. Don’t read anybody’s reviews. Don’t watch the trailer. Just go see the movie, and come back and do those other things later. If for no other reason, this is a film well-suited to knowing very little about it going in.

But then, it is after all based on a bestselling book, so a large part of its audience does already know all about what it’s about, what turns the plot takes, etc. I worked in a bookstore during the height of the book’s sales. However, I never read it and only had a vague idea of what it was about; as such, I was able to enjoy the movie fresh. What I did know was that the premise bore some similarities to the Josef Fritzl case in Austria, and the Ariel Castro case in Cleveland.

Here we have a young woman, usually referred to simply as “Ma” (Brie Larson), who is locked in a 10′ x 10′ shed with her young son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) by her captor (and Jack’s biological father), Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). That’s all I’m going to tell you, and all you really need to know.

I spent about the first half-hour of Room’s 118-minute runtime being not terribly impressed. Once it becomes clear that it’s a movie that both isn’t going quite where you expect and is willing to stick with its convictions, it starts getting quite a bit better. In terms of the captivity drama, material comparable to this has already been handled better, such as in Markus Schleinzer’s 2011 film Michael. Room’s greatest strength, though, is not its (admittedly strong) narrative, but its performances.

I’ve been a fan of Larson’s for years now; she’s much more a character actor than one would expect of a young, pretty white girl working in Hollywood. Even if you don’t immediately recognize her name, I’m betting you’ve seen her in something: 21 Jump Street, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Don Jon, The Spectacular Now, Trainwreck, or, in what is so far her best performance, Short Term 12. For Room, she’s deservedly getting talk of a (much-deserved) Oscar nomination, as is her young costar Tremblay, who turns in one of the most believable, complex child performances in a while (or at least since Abraham Attah’s in Beasts of No Nation two weeks ago—it’s a strong year for youth performers).

There are some gaps in logic and details that go unexplained in Room, which caused me at least a little dissatisfaction, but which can’t be discussed without giving away things I don’t want to give away. But in some ways, that’s exactly my point: Whether you wind up liking the film or not, this one’s going to be around for awhile, so you’re going to need to see it and form your own opinion. I firmly believe you’re more likely to enjoy it knowing little about it than you are if it’s all been spoiled for you out the wazoo by the time you see it—so since you’re going to have to see it anyway, why not run out and do so now, so as to aid in your potential for enjoyment? | Pete Timmermann

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