Room (2015)


I ain’t gonna lie: Room wrecked me up inside. I watch so many movies that not many get to me, but of all the 2015 films I’ve seen thus far (and there aren’t many left to go), this one probably takes the cake. Maybe it caught me at the right mood or perhaps it’s the parent in me — either way, I found Room to be an emotional wrecking ball,  one that also offers moments of genuine suspense and heartwarming rewards.

I remember when I first saw the book of the same name upon which the film is based. It was 2011, and I was browsing around this endangered thing called a bookstore. The cover did not give away much except to say that it was about a five-year-old boy and his mother, and that the boy had never been outside the titular room. In the spirit of that cover, I won’t reveal any more about the plot, though it’s probably not hard to guess the premise. In any case, you find out very early in the film why they are in this predicament, and in all fairness, even knowing the answer to that in advance won’t really take much away from the overall experience.

I’m surprised but elated that Room is one of the eight Best Picture nominees at the 2016 Oscars. It’s a small-scale movie with some very difficult themes, several harrowing scenes, and a central premise that could come across as manipulative, particularly as the story is told through the eyes of the child. And yet it is so delicately written (the screenplay is also by Emma Donoghue, author of the novel), directed (by Lenny Abrahamson) and performed that all the emotions come across as terrifyingly and heartbreakingly real. As the father of two young boys myself, Room left a lump in my throat more than once.

There are so many things I appreciate about this film — the measured ways the characters are introduced and developed; how the revelations, big or small, have just the right amount of subtlety so that it’s neither spelled out nor overstated; the build-up of suspense and sense of urgency; the well-created feeling that you don’t quite know where the plot is heading; the way the dialogue can say a lot without much talking.

Above all else, Room is driven by the remarkable performances of the two leads — Brie Larson and Jason Tremblay. Larson has been a recognisable faces for some time now, but this will likely be the role that launches her to superstardom, especially if she gets the win on Feb. Her portrayal of the mother has won universal praise and deservedly so. She brings out all the vulnerability and strength of her character to perfection, and most of all she made me believe that she could be a real person. If there are any flaws in the character it’s more the fault of the script than her performance.

Young Tremblay, on the other hand, doesn’t put a step wrong despite playing a five-year-old child who has spent his entire life in a small room. I was initially convinced he’d get on my nerves or slip up somewhere sooner or later, but he manages to maintain that wide-eyed sense of wonderment, naïveté and innocence all the way through. At just 9 years old, this kid has a tremendous future ahead of him if he can stay grounded.

Room isn’t a perfect film — there are things I can nitpick about the premise and plot and some of the character interactions — though when it comes to pure emotional impact and heartfelt drama, it’s one of the best of the year. As tough as it was to watch at times, I wanted to keep watching this compelling story unfold. It’s a horrifying and inspiring experience about the best and worst about being human.

4.5 stars out of 5

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