ROOM Review – A Riveting, Challenging, Triumph Over Tragedy Story

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ROOM, from A24, brings to the screen a gripping tale, woven together straight from the headlines with challenging circumstances, a story of hope against all odds, of survival, of reentry, of remembering and discovering, of birth, death and rebirth.

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, ROOM stars Brie Larson, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, Sean Bridges, Tom McCamus and in a break out performance Jacob Tremblay as Jack.  ROOM was written by Emma Donoghue based on her award winning novel of the same name.

ROOM begins with voice over by Jack describing “room,” the name given to this humble abode that unless one enters the film prepared for the outcome, or with some foreknowledge possibly having read the bestseller, the first idea is that this could be a triumph over poverty story as the details of Ma’s existence in the room are unknown until the film unfolds.

The opening scenes of ROOM show a devoted Ma, who incorporates in her child’s life traditions she obviously had in her life. They practice yoga; she runs the energy out of him; when the frustration is beyond her, together they scream at the aliens. Measuring him against the wall, the camera pans the previous markings, milestones in his very young and sheltered existence. Years, of growth, hidden from the world, unknown to anyone except Ma who holds on to the hope of escape.

Today, is Jack’s birthday, he is five and together he and Ma played by Brie Larson, in what could be describe as a breakout role for her as well, as her performance was stunning and captivating, and more so as the details of her situation unfold, bake a cake.

Ma is a prisoner; room her cell. Her only friend, her son Jack born in captivity a result of the known but not shown violence she has endured, at minimum five, nearly six years of captivity as it is Jack’s fifth birthday. This is also the day Old Nick, played by Sean Bridges, shows up with weekly supplies.

Told from the child’s viewpoint, who only knows the room, a shed, a trap, a prison where, Ma after being kidnapped is kept for nearly seven years. She endures, the last five with her son Jack.

Ma’s life, in room, as Jack describes are good days and days when she checks out unable to cope with the situation and Jack, at five, is old enough to maneuver the small 10 X 10 room by himself. The steel door, a vault activated by electronic code from the outside, is closed to strangers, to escape, to hope.

In addition to his weekly supplies, Old Nick shows up for sex. Still, during the first scenes, the audience is unaware of the back story and still looking like a poverty stricken story, Ma is living in aggravated Post Traumatic Stress numbness. Her actions are of survival.

Old Nick finds out it is Jack’s birthday and suddenly, he shows an unnatural kindness. Almost upset he wasn’t told the next visit Jack receives his first bought present. A shiny red fire engine.

Finally Ma begins to deconstruct the carefully built shelter she has built around Jack’s emotions and life. Slowly, she explains what is real which begins the explanation of their lifestyle and the transition.

Until this point in the film it is a two-hander with Ma and Jack. As we have seen in recent cases of adult abduction, even after decades of enduring horrors, hell, violence and violent abuse, threatened by death and wishing at times it would come, escape presents itself. Which it does here also.

The second act of ROOM is the reentry period with Joan Allen, as Grandma/Mom, William H. Macy as Grandpa/Dad and Tom McCamus as Leo.

As these scenes unfold, the uncertainty and the eggshell dance as suddenly wanting everything to be the same and yet it is beyond different. The world, the life, and hope of the 17 year-old that walked out one day and never returned. Then returning to her room, her home, now what happened to the life.

With Grandma no longer married to Grandpa, the two are suddenly reunited and reliving the emotions of life together with Joy/Ma and then when she disappeared, everything suddenly fell apart. Which is not uncommon after the intense emotional struggle parents of abducted children face.

Adding Tom McCamus as Leo to the dynamics, the lifelong neighbor now Grandma's new lover to the family, plus the psychological issues of reentry, of stopping the runaway emotional train bent on derailing, ROOM is masterful in its portrayal of the AT, After-Tragedy, life.

Suddenly, ROOM with all its intensities, violence, hatred for Ma, was womb-like for Jack. The world with all its newness, strangeness and new people with expectations is a struggle.

His reentry process is suddenly over with a knock on the door as a child from the neighborhood suggest he come out and play. His resilience brings Ma closer to the brink. The safety of home allows her to release the years of trauma.

Brie Larson gives a stunning, captivating performance. One that should not be overlooked as Awards Season approaches.

Jacob Tremblay may become the youngest male actor to receive an Academy Award nomination for his performance as Jack. In his simplicity he is; without understanding truths, he embodies this child that carries a good portion of the film.  

Joan Allen’s supporting role as Mom/Grandma is twofold, both of which she embodies.  A gentle caring guardian for her grandson, Jack, born from rape and her daughter whom she has a history and often is torn between reverting to the past friction of mother-daughter to the remembering none of this was easy or her fault.

William H. Macy, as a loving Dad/Grandpa, provides the common sense and unspoken words that hang like thick humidity, a stifling unspoken tour-de-force performance.

Lenny Abrahamson's ROOM is so much more than a story of victim/survivor. It is a story of a belief, a faith. Even in the worst case scenarios, Ma refused to allow the circumstances to cement in her mind. She was faced daily with being erased; abducted, stolen, mentally beaten down, physically, all the horrors of what the mind can imagine and we are led to believe even those of which are so egregious the mind cannot comprehend.

ROOM is a story of hope against all odds, of reentry, of remembering and discovering, and I think of most of all the core of ROOM is a hope for tomorrow while enduring today.

ROOM opens Friday October 16, 2015 in select cities expanding thereafter. 

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