Having seen the trailer, but avoided pretty much all other potential spoilers, I had assumed that Room was the typical oscar-bait type of film full of angst and overacting. This sentiment was further encouraged by the amount of award buzz around the film and its stars, with its director, its lead female actor and the film itself all Oscar nominated. But is Room really worthy of the wealth of praise currently being bestowed upon it?
Room is Emma Donoghue’s adaptation of her award winning book of the same name about a mother and son held captive by a mysterious stranger known only as “Old Nick”, but perhaps the best summary of the film itself comes from the official plot synopsis:
Both highly suspenseful and deeply emotional, Room is a unique and touching exploration of the boundless love between a mother and her child. After 5-year-old Jack and his Ma escape from the enclosed surroundings that Jack has known his entire life, the boy makes a thrilling discovery: the outside world. As he experiences all the joy, excitement, and fear that this new adventure brings, he holds tight to the one thing that matters most of all – his special bond with his loving and devoted Ma.
Room deals with its harrowing subject matter in a manner which is both engaging and at times difficult to watch, but in a good way. Despite the obvious plot spoilers in the official synopsis and trailer, there are still moments of incredible tension throughout and an emotional engagement that is becoming a rarity in modern films.
The pacing of the film is deliberately uneven adding to the sense of suspense and uncertainty that feature at the heart of the plot. It helps emphasise the claustrophobic and somewhat disorientating nature of the story and combined with contrasting visuals, helps immerse the audience and encourage them to relate to the characters.
Unfortunately the score is probably one of the weaker elements of Room and it is perhaps most telling that some of the most powerful moments of the film have little to no aural accompaniment other than the actors and the sets themselves.
But thankfully, Room doesn’t try to tell the story through the score. Instead it is the actors and the story that drive the film encouraging the audience to interact with the characters and their ordeals without ever being steered towards making predetermined conclusions.
This is helped by the fact that the performances of all the actors are excellent with Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay in particular both worthy of note.
Brie Larson gives a fantastic performance that is at times somewhat understated yet all the more engaging because of it. Unlike a certain other recently reviewed film and female lead, Larson is totally believable as the mother of a five year old. But more than that, she manages to evoke strength and fragility, joy and pain, numbness and engagement all at the same time. Her torment is etched across her performance without ever distracting from the events developments of both the story and her character. She conveys complex thoughts and deep emotions without ever having to utter a word as her internal struggles are laid bare for all to see.
Larson’s performance is aided by the equally outstanding Jacob Tremblay as her long-haired five year old son. He brings a surprising strength and range to the role which could easily have been clichéd and limited. He holds his own alongside Larson and together they make a believable mother and son combo which allows the film to flourish and the story to develop in a way that never feels forced.
The supporting cast of Joan Allen and Tom McCamus also deserve recognition for some stellar work, and William H Macy’s all too brief appearances show just what an outstanding actor he is.
Aside from a limited score, the one thing that I felt let the film down was the use of voice-overs. While I understand that the book was written from Jack’s perspective, and therefore it is in a sense narrated from the viewpoint of a 5-year-old boy, I felt it was somewhat superfluous in the film version. Thankfully it was used relatively sparingly, appearing at certain moments apparently at random, but it added little to the film and to some extent actually detracted from the engaging performances.
Despite the somewhat misjudged voice-overs, Room is one of the most powerful and engaging films with some of the best performances I have seen in some time. It covers a difficult subject matter incredibly well, without ever attempting to make the audience judge characters or drive them to a predetermined conclusion or descending into cliché and tired tropes.
Instead the director trusts his actors to show us who they are and what they feel and think, and it really pays off!
Is it a film that I am eager to watch again and again? Given the subject-matter and empathy inducing emotional performances, probably not.
Is it a very good film with some fantastic performances that deserves to be watched at least once? Absolutely!