Film Review: Room

Room is always on the verge of being something great, but a wrong headed decision at the 2/3 mark almost sank the movie entirely.

Based on the acclaimed novel, Room follows the life of an abducted woman, Joy, and her son, Jack (born from the rape of her captor), as they survive in a single room which they’re held captive. Visited on a weekly basis by their captor, we see the duo’s daily routine, Joy’s growing frustrations and their eventual attempts at escaping.

I would normally try to restrain from spoilers, but this film is difficult to talk much about without. Still, the trailer shows that they escape and half the film is dedicated to life outside Room. The film works best when it is in the room, and while I was happy to see them get out I wasn’t as big a fan of the story we get after, specifically Joy’s journey. Look, I’m not asking her to be all Kimmy Schmidt, but the story takes a sharp turn into the potentially tragic in a hurry, betraying everything the character and film had been about beforehand. Added to this, it’s all motivated by a horribly contrived TV interview that almost turned me off to the film. Yes, dealing with this sort of trauma is unimaginable, but to deal with it in such shallow and convenient methods doesn’t fit with the rest of the story. There had to be another way to get Joy out of the story for a bit so Jack could become more of an independent individual.

The reason that sequence of events feels so wrong is because the rest of the film is just so positive. Yes, Joy is dealing with depression throughout, but she still manages to be a positive force for Jack, in a film that ultimately wants us to feel the love between mother and child. This is the most positive a film about captive abduction could be, and it achieves that by putting us in the eyes of Jack.

Jack is a beam of hope, optimism and wonder, played pretty damn great by newcomer Jacob Tremblay. Tremblay is great when Jack feels right at home in the room, sells us on the frustration that he feels being stuck in Room, but he is the best as Jack when he is slowly adjusting to the outside world. Tremblay is already full of small nuances that make Jack a fully realized creation, and I have to imagine Brie Larson (as Joy) and director Lenny Abrahamson deserve some props for giving the kid an environment to feel so comfortable. Larson is also as good as the material lets her be, but I wish the part was written with a bit more depth. Once Larson is out of the room she is basically asked to just go through the motions, and I wish the script gave her as much to work with as it did in Room. In Room she gets to show us the strength and patience it must have taken to deal with everything she’s dealt with for her seven years in captivity, but once she’s out the script basically wants her to just try and kill herself already. Quite the betrayal. The only other cast member worth mentioning is Tom McCamus, who plays Joy’s new step-dad and forms a film friendship with Jack. He nails the part perfectly, which was essential to us buying Jack opening up to him.

I spent a lot of words beating up on where the film falters, but Lenny Abrahamson crafts a number of great moments too. The escape set piece is particularly tense, and I mentioned how almost everything in Room works particularly well, but I most enjoyed Jack’s perspective on the world. And we do get a lot of that stuff.

Room is well worth a watch, but I couldn’t help but be frustrated with the film’s shortcomings. Larson and Tremblay are often excellent, and Abrahamson is mostly successful at telling this story through a child’s eyes, but Joy’s arc really hurts the overall success of the film. Still, Room is worth a watch for sure if you are interested, I just wonder what it could have been if it changed things up a bit from the book.

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