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Dustin Putman

Room  (2015)
3 Stars
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson.
Cast: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, Tom McCamus, Sean Bridgers, William H. Macy, Megan Park, Wendy Crewson, Amanda Brugel, Joe Pingue, Cas Anvar.
2015 – 118 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, October 21, 2015.
Emma Donoghue's best-selling 2010 novel "Room" was told entirely from the perspective of a five-year-old boy—the offspring of a young mother and her longtime abductor—and this unique point-of-view has been admirably retained for director Lenny Abrahamson's (2014's "Frank") tough, compassionate feature adaptation. The film, also written by Donoghue, focuses on the two central characters in its story rather than the crime they have been victims of, placing the power back in their hands after it has been stripped from them for so long. Finding a way out of their unthinkable situation, however, will not be a quick-fix solution to their problems. This, above all, is where the sublimely acted "Room" deepens and provokes most considerably.

When Joy Newsome (Brie Larson) was 17, she was snatched off her neighborhood street while trying to help a man look for his supposedly lost dog. Seven years later, her life—and that of her son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay)—is confined to the garden shed in Old Nick's (Sean Bridgers) backyard, their only glimpse of the outside world coming from a small skylight. Jack has known nothing other than the four walls surrounding him, a place he simply calls "room"—it is where he eats, watches television, and sleeps in the closet on nights when Old Nick drops by to visit his mom. Because Jack was so young, Joy chose to raise him to believe everything in room was real, while everything beyond it, including what was on the TV, was fantasy. Now that he has just turned five, she decides it is not only time for him to know the truth, but also to have a chance at a normal childhood before it is too late. What she doesn't expect is how difficult it will be for her to acclimate to a life that has kept on moving in the formative adult years she has been held in captivity.

"Room" disperses little by little the details of its premise and the circumstances which have led to Joy and Jack's cruel confinement. In nestling inside little Jack's frame of mind, the film approaches its subject matter from a place of childlike wonder, the harsh truths of their reality threatening to invade his consciousness at every turn. Screenwriter Emma Donoghue, her work under the graceful, contemplative care of director Lenny Abrahamson, is finely attuned to the unmatured thought processes of her preadolescent protagonist. And, even if he is too young and too close to notice, through his eyes the viewer comes to understand the fiercely protective nature of his mom, kidnapped when she was still in high school and made a parent when she wasn't yet 20. Joy has struggled to make their everyday existences as normal as possible—their shed has a stove, a bed, and, until the unemployed Old Nick fails to pay his bills, heat—because what other choice does she have? The plan she begins to formulate in her mind could be their only chance for escape, but it hinges on Jack's courageousness in doing exactly what she tells him. The portrayal of this make-or-break scheme is deliberately slow yet unspeakably intense, the equivalent of having a nightmare where one tries to run but seems to be stuck in molasses.

Brie Larson (2015's "Trainwreck") and Jacob Tremblay (2013's "The Smurfs 2") give their roles an aching, fallible humanity, their mother-child bond so very powerful it stings all the more when Jack is helpless to watch as Joy, for the first time in his life, isn't there to shelter and comfort him. Tremblay carries the picture as Jack, his astonishingly natural work placing the viewer steadfastly beside him as he gets his first peek outside room and isn't so sure he likes what he sees. As Joy, Larson is wholly believable as someone who has had to grow up quickly with no one to turn to, the responsibility of caring for a child both a savior for her and a distraction to the losses she herself has faced. In supporting turns, Joan Allen (2014's "A Good Marriage") brings an initial hesitancy and ultimate warmth to Nancy, Joy's mom, shocked yet thankful her daughter has been found alive, and Tom McCamus (2010's "Cairo Time") is a trustworthy beacon of support as Nancy's new beau, family friend Leo. Of the cast, William H. Macy (2012's "The Sessions") receives short shrift as Joy's dad, Robert, now divorced and unwilling to confront what happened to his daughter and the grandson she has brought home with her. Macy is in and out quickly, never to be seen or mentioned again; it is the one subplot that feels unfinished.

When "Room" reaches its untidy, mostly satisfying conclusion, there is the sense this narrative could have gone further, delving into the healing process and the challenges destined to lie ahead as Joy takes the first steps toward her own independence. What happens to these characters has grown to truly mean something by the end—a testament to the sensitivity of the script and the strength of the superlative actors bringing this story to life. Wisely not about what has happened to Jack and Joy, but about the psychological ramifications of their traumatic experience, "Room" is an affecting drama approached from an uncommonly perceptive angle.
© 2015 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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