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Friday, November 6, 2015

Movie Review: #Room

Room wastes a golden Oscar opportunity.

Review by Matt Cummings

In Director Lenny Abrahamson's Room, Joy (Brie Larson) has been held captive for seven years in a 10x10 shed, a victim of a friendly offer to help find a fictitious lost dog. Her captor Old Nick (Sean Bridges) continues to rape her, having fathered the now-five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) along the way. The long-haired, diaper-bound Jack has never seen the outside world, except for what their skylight and tiny television provide. But when Joy begins to crack under the pressure, she makes a daring escape plan that sees Nick arrested and her world returned reopened. But things have changed for her family, namely the divorce of her mother (Joan Allen) and father (William H. Macy) over Joy's kidnapping. As Jack begins to adjust to the real world, Joy battles depression and a renewed sense of helplessness, as she struggles to gain closure on her experiences.

Abrahamson makes Joy's world a depressing one, putting her in ratty hair and pimples and a constant victim of rape by Old Nick. That pressure on her doesn't change even when the accomdations do. Joy is a permanently damaged soul, perhaps never able to recover from her ordeal, with Larson dancing Joy on the edge of sanity. She's clearly a victim of her circumstances, but when we first find her she's also ignorant of her ability to escape. As those circumstances begin to change, Larson allows the fever of her situation to overcome her, displaying rage one minute, desperate sadness and overwhelming helplessness the next. But it's Tremblay who keeps us laser-focused on him, a child who's never known the outside world and is almost effeminate when he emerges. We've had a good run of young actor performances in 2015, and Tremblay is clearly one of them. He's demonstrates that incredible resiliency gene that kids seem to have, even when Ma descends after her ill-advised interview with the press.

But while Abrahamson sets a high target, he doesn't quite attain it. There's the spotty appearance by Macy as Joy's father, whose lack of emotional weight behind his performance becomes uncomfortable throwaways as he tries to deal with his daughter's return. Allen's puffy face made her almost unrecognizable, and here she's only merely good; the trouble with both performances might lie with Writer Emma Donoghue's script. She also wrote the novel, but doesn't have a firm grasp on what scenes to convert for the digital medium. Instead of showing their marital struggles and the psychological damage they've endured, we get an almost tacit acceptance of the situation. There's never that cathartic (and usually good) exchange that sets the tone for a healing Act 3. Not that we prefer happy endings, but at least this sort of movement would have upped the momentum, which Room barely attains and loses too quickly.

There's too much set up in the captive scenes, spending nearly 50 minutes to show just how bad things are. Don't worry, we get it. In many ways, Room would have been more powerful had some of those scenes been cut in favor of the post-survival angle. There's also a stinging lack of resolution here, perhaps a message about the messiness which horrible events like this reveal. Again, we do like messy, incomplete endings, but only when that tension has a strong build up. That's not the case here. Another problem is the soaring score by Composer Stephen Rennicks, which doesn't match the tone of Room in the slightest. It's the most inappropriate at film's end, as Joy and Jack visit their former prison. In any other drama, Rennicks' score might be praised for its beauty. Talk about a mismatch.

As compelling a story as it is, Room wastes a golden opportunity at becoming an Oscar frontrunner. Bogged down by too much set up, not enough resolution, as well as a score that doesn't match the film's dark themes, Room fails to measure on a truly emotional level. It might become one of those Netflix gems you run into later, as its lead performances might get some Oscar recognition.

Room is rated R for language and has a runtime of 118 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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