Room (2015) (R)

This review contains SPOILERS!
Seriously, I can't think of a way of talking about this movie without spoiling everything in it, you are so warned.
Room by Emma Donoghue is a book that means a great deal to me. It's one of my favorites and one that I frequently say "changed my life" not in some emotional sense, but in the aspect of writing. Donoghue's book is sensational in this regard, she manages to tell a story from the point of view of a five year old boy without being insincere or cheesy. It's also a book that seems impossible to turn into a movie.
"Room" is a movie that would be impossible to make outside of its indie setting. This is not a blockbuster film nor is it something destined for a popular audience. This is a critic's darling, film snob's film. The reason I say this is that you can find fault with the movie...but only with its premise and not with its execution. Emma Donoghue (who also wrote the screenplay) should be to blame if the movie is unsuccessful. But it's not, so she's off the hook.
The movie concerns two spaces: inside and outside of the titular space of "room". Jack (Jacob Tremblay) just turned five and his mother (Brie Larson) decides to bake him a cake for the occasion. They get all the ingredients and spend time whisking, stirring, baking, and then cleaning. Yet when it's time to dig in, Jack is upset because there are no candles like the TV people have.
I don't know how this scene would play out to those who hadn't read the book. For me, I knew the ending and thus, was not too surprised when everything panned out almost exactly like it did in the book. The translation from novel to movie here is quite stellar, but that's beside the point. This scene shows that something is off kilter. Questions would start to arise: Why are they living in such a small room? Why can't they get access to the outside world? etc.
For me, I knew the ending, but that didn't mean that somehow Donoghue and director Lenny Abrahamson (of indie fame) create a tightly focused quasi-thriller that had everyone sobbing on the edge of their seat. I know it sounds weird, but the movie's emotional are so visceral and its execution is so perfect that this seems like the only appropriate reaction.
It becomes clear that the mother soon has to explain to her son that they are not present on their own accord. She was kidnapped and has been held prisoner for years. Jack, on the other hand, was born into the system. He knows nothing besides Room, nothing other than these walls. He thinks the entire world is in that single shed.
But the mother (whose name is used, but appears in the credits as "Ma") cannot function within these conditions and so devises many schemes to escape.
What "Room" does so well is present a situation in which the only possible action seems like the one that will forever damn the characters. Jack will not be the same on the outside and the mother will have to live with the pressure of her new life and the fact that she risked her child. It's kind of a paradox that forms, in the sense that this single action of wishing to escape will not only change the narrative of the movie, but also the sense of emotion that was built up in the first half.
"Room" has to reinvent itself in the second half, wiping the slate clean and beginning again. Jack has to learn about simple things like showers and legos while the mother has to balance her private and increasingly public life with her new freedom.
"Room" is an intense punch to the gut. Its emotions are bare and stressful. I have never been in a theater where an audience responded to a move like this, it was almost unbelievable the reaction of the movie.
With that being said, there is nothing I can say that can prove enough that "Room" manages to pull off so many genres and elicit such powerful performances from two actors without letting the audience feel cheated. The confines of the spaces the movie takes place in never feel constricting from an entertainment point of view. Abrahamson manages to find different ways of looking at the same thing so that a small shed feels immense and a house in the suburbs can be suffocating. This is Jack's movie after all, and everything is smartly from his perspective.
This is a movie that hinges on the performance of Jack and Jacob Tremblay, as he has been being praised, is sensational. It feels like less of a performance and more of a genuine character that this young boy is. While Tremblay is staggering, he couldn't function without Brie Larson whose grief stricken and anxious performance always has nuance in it and doesn't feel like "the crying woman".
"Room's" accomplishments are too many to list. When I first heard about the movie I was so skeptical because the book seemed impossible to film...but now, consider me a believer.

Score: ★★★½

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