Books have long provided a bottomless source of material for the movies, an eternal spring-well of stories, ideas and characters. Lately, a growing trend in Hollywood is to hire a book’s author to adapt the screenplay of their work…who other than the novel’s creator knows the story better than the author? Room (opening today), is based on the 2010 best-seller for author Emma Donoghue, who was then tapped to adapt the film-version. The result is a harrowing, faithful adaptation that is at the same time extremely difficult to watch, yet is an absolute must-see. And while the movie is generating loads of Oscar buzz surrounding the phenomenal Brie Larson, there is a truly Oscar-worthy performance by 9-year-old actor Jacob Tremblay, who not only carries the movie, but turns in one of the best child performances in the history of movies.
Room unravels slowly, telling the story of “Ma” (Larson) and her young son Jack (Tremblay). Ma – some years back – was abducted by a sociopath referred to as “Old Nick” (Sean Bridgers) and forced to live in a small garden shed in his backyard. Jack was born in captivity, and this brutal bastard Nick keeps them both as proverbial caged pets, never allowed to step foot outside of this shed that Jack knows simply as “Room.” When Nick stops in, Jack is forced to hide in a closet, never to make eye contact with Old Nick. Nick brings in a minimal amount of groceries for his captives, before using Ma to fulfill his sexual needs while Jack cowers in hiding.
While this is an unspeakable tragedy, Room is a story of undying hope and love. It is the story of a mother whose only ray of hope – her only reason to exist – is her son. Room is all that Jack has ever known. Given the barest essentials to survive in this confined space, Ma has created a fantasy-version of reality to explain Jack’s existence…Jack’s understanding of the world is that there are only three people who live in it, and the people he sees on TV are just “magic.” On his fifth birthday, Ma has finally been pushed past the point of sanity and concocts a plan to break Jack out of this living hell.
Whether the plan fails or succeeds I will leave for you to experience. What I can say is that director Lenny Abrahamson creates a suffocating vision of Room. The audience is left gasping for fresh air, also wanting out of this cramped, uncomfortable world.
We do eventually glimpse the outside and we meet Ma’s parents, who are arguably just as broken. Joan Allen and Tom McCamus turn in great supporting performances as the mom and new husband, while William H. Macy shows up as Ma’s birth-father.
Room echoes the equally fantastic 2012 film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, which you may remember scored Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay, and which also landed then nine-year-old actress Quvenzhane Wallis a Best Actress nomination, the youngest ever in that category. It also reminded me of the 1997 Oscar-winning film Life Is Beautiful. All of these movies take place in horrible, cataclysmic environments, where a young child is shielded by their loving parent, against all odds, to keep them safe and from exposing them to the realities of the world. Like these previous films, Room is a positive, heart-wrenching experience, despite being a tough film to sit through.
The legendary Roger Ebert had wrote about Quvenzhane Wallis in Beasts: “She is so uniquely and particularly herself that I wonder if the movie would have been possible without her.” The exact same can be said for Jacob Tremblay in Room. He is in every scene, and he makes the movie possible. And he is given a wide range of things to do, from the beginning of his journey to the end of it. It’s not only a break-through performance for the young actor, whose previous film credits include Smurfs 2 and Before I Wake, it’s an award-worthy one.
The second-half of Room is not quite as exceptional as the first, but this is a movie that stuck with me long after seeing it. Room, in more ways than one, is quite hard to escape from.
Run Time: 1 hour, 58 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, Sean Bridgers, William H. Macy, Tom McCamus
Based on the novel by Emma Donoghue
Screenplay by Emma Donoghue
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Frank, What Richard Did, Garage, Adam & Paul)
Opens locally on Friday, Oct 30, 2015 (check for show times).