Film Review: “Room,” directed by Lenny Abrahamson, 2015
When I read Emma Donoghue’s brilliant novel a few years ago, I thought its claustrophobic setting and 5-year-old narrator made the book impossible to turn into a movie. Thank goodness, I was wrong. Lenny Abrahamson’s film succeeds in capturing the book’s positive spirit and the young protagonist’s sense of wonder.
Just like in the novel, the movie is presented from the point of view of Jack (played by Jacob Tremblay), who turns 5 at the beginning of the film. He’s a happy, sweet boy who says “good morning” to everything around him—Room, Sink, Wardrobe, Plant, TV, etc.
Soon it becomes clear that those things are his “friends.” The tiny room is Jack’s entire world. His Ma (Brie Larson) has lived there for seven years and Jack was born there. A man they know as Old Nick has kept them prisoners.
Jack is too young to understand that the man is his father, a criminal who kidnapped Ma and turned her into his sex slave. “Once upon a time, before I was born, you cried and cried and watched TV all day, until you were a zombie,” Jack tells Ma. “But then I zoomed down from heaven, through Skylight, into Room.”
And yet, Jack is contented, thanks to Ma’s unconditional love and fortitude. They do everything together with a sense of positivity—exercising, playing, baking a birthday cake, reading, watching TV, and staring at the skylight, which provides their only glimpse of the outside world.
Everything might have stayed the same, but one day, Old Nick tells Ma that he has lost his job and he might lose the house. Jack doesn’t realize that if Old Nick loses the house, he might kill Jack and Ma, instead of letting them go. The boy only sees his mother growing anxious and depressed as she hatches a plan for his escape.
Extraordinary Book & Film
“Room,” which won the 2011 Commonwealth Prize for Fiction (Canada and Caribbean), is extraordinary in many ways, but foremost is Donoghue’s ability to tell a horrific, ripped-from-the-headlines story with such love, innocence, and positivity primarily by using a little boy’s POV. The movie has preserved Donoghue’s unique voice. Perhaps it helped that the author wrote the screenplay.
Larson deserves the 2016 Oscar award for best actress for her visceral portrayal of Ma. She is strong and vulnerable all at once. Who knew the little-known actress who played second fiddle as Amy Schumer’s sister in “Trainwreck” belonged in the same league as Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, and Kate Winslet?
Tremblay is a natural-born actor who deserves as much credit as Larson in elevating the film to a level much higher than a TV drama, which is typically the vehicle for this type of crime fiction. More than anything, “Room” is about the bond between mother and child and love’s power to overcome almost anything.
The Opposite of “Frank”
Abrahamson is the director of “Frank” (2014), starring Michael Fassbender underneath a huge papier-maché head. “Frank” is strange and experimental, while “Room” is the opposite of “Frank” in both substance and style. “Room” is conventional in the best possible way, straightforward and without any gimmicks. Abrahamson’s ability to make two very different films shows the depth of his creativity. I can’t wait to watch his next movie.
Read this story about present-tense novels. “Room” is at the top of the list: