You’d never guess it from looking at the smiling mother and son on posters and bus stop ads, but Room contains one of the most intense sequences of any movie you’ll see this year. The sequence is one of many great moments in Room; a film that is rooted in the unbreakable love between a mother and her son, who find light in each other even when their world gets unfathomably dark.
When we first meet Joy (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay), they’re happy together. As the conditions of their environment quickly become clear to the audience, those happy moments seem like miracles in a living hell. Joy has been imprisoned for longer than her son’s been alive by Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). Fearing their imprisonment will have to end one day and will likely end in death for them both, Joy devises a plan to get Jack out into the world. It isn’t a spoiler to suggest that they eventually find freedom because the crux of the characters’ journeys – and of the film itself – is found in the personal discoveries that awaits them both beyond those four walls.
Room is emotionally draining, even if it perhaps a tad bit too delicate to be emotionally devastating. Told through Jack’s point of view, the film leaves the darkest moments of the story in the spaces between scenes. This storytelling device perhaps diminishes some of the more overtly dramatic or sensational moments, and it leaves a lot of Joy’s development left unseen. Ultimately, however, Brie Larson’s eyes tell us everything the filmmakers do not show. It’s a powerhouse performance and Larson leaves everything out on the screen. She’s an actress with a superb track record (most notably in 2013’s Short Term 12), but her performance in Room is one for the ages. Not to be outdone is her co-star Jacob Tremblay, a young actor who leaves an indelible impression as Jack.
If there are any objective shortcomings to be found in the film’s execution, it’s that Joan Allen and William H. Macy (as Joy’s mom and dad) aren’t given more of a chance to develop their characters. Macy pops in as quickly as he leaves, and Allen gets a fair amount of screen time, but few moments to shine. With that being said, the two are masterful performers and, as one would expect, they do make an impact within the scope of their functions in the movie.
Character actor Tom McCamus appears as Joy’s stepfather, Doug, and absolutely steals scenes in his one-on-one interactions with Jack. Those scenes are heartwarming reminders of all the kindness Jack has yet to experience in the world. The relationship between these two relative strangers melts your heart.
The filmmakers handle a heavy subject matter with a deft touch. Room, based on the best-selling novel by writer Emma Donoghue, is layered with subtext. And for all the surface horrors that exist in the story, the script delivers moments of internal revelation expressed in a subtly artful manner. Donoghue also wrote the screenplay for the film, and I’d be surprised if she and Larson aren’t prominently featured in the year-end awards talk. It would be a shame if McCamus weren’t part of that same conversation as well.
Room is a potent drama about the bond of love and the will to survive. It also reminds us that the world is a big place, and there is kindness in it beyond enclosures that can hold us captive in fear.