I saw this little film in a theatre with only three other couples. The couple to my left got up and walked out after 15 minutes. The female half of the pair in front spent the movie texting.
The two women behind me kept up a running commentary on the movie. They started with a loud discussion about the gender of Jacob Tremblay’s character Jack. They concluded that he was indeed a boy, and had a good giggle about his waist-length hair.
The character actually has far bigger problems than looking a bit like a girl. Jack and his beloved Ma (Brie Larson) have spent his entire five years of life in a locked, soundproofed shed that they call “Room”. They call their captor (Sean Bridgers) Old Nick .
Old Nick snatched a teenage Joy Newsome seven years ago, before she became Jack’s Ma. Every evening the captor visits with supplies and spends the night in Room while little Jack sleeps in a closet – Ma won’t let Old Nick see, touch or talk to the boy. Old Nick, a banal yet violent and truly scary presence, seems to bow to her wishes on this.
Ma makes a bid for freedom by pretending Jack is sick and convincing Old Nick to take him to a hospital, so she makes herself vomit over Jack’s bed. The women behind me were revolted. Ma is in a state of determination and emergency, and it’s a shame they allowed it to take them out of the moment.
Ma and Jack eventually pull off a nerve-shredding but rather implausible escape, and wake up in a hospital room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a vast cityscape. (This seemed like a rapid adjustment for two people used to a cramped room with only a skylight.)
Soon, other characters start piling in: Ma’s divorced parents, lawyers, doctors, television hosts. Out goes the intensity and claustrophobia, and the movie starts to lose its hold.
As with Emma Donoghue’s novel, the screenplay (also by Donoghue) unfolds from Jack’s perspective. This is a great thing, as it stops Room from becoming too harrowing.
But perhaps Joy’s/Ma’s experiences would have been more compelling. For example, we could have seen her meeting up with the school friends who have moved on with their lives. There’s a great scene where she rails at her mother (Joan Allen) for raising her to be “nice”. Being nice got her kidnapped, she spits. Larson dares to make her character realistically selfish, unlikable and unreasonable.
There’s also an angry moment with her father (William H. Macy) when he won’t acknowledge Jack. Then Macy is out of the picture, never to be seen again. Even Larson’s character is hauled off-screen in the final act as she recovers from a suicide attempt.
We do get little Jack making cakes with grandma and getting a haircut. The women behind me were pleased.
Verdict: A very deft performance by Larson and some excellent casting in the form of child actor Tremblay. Behaviour in theatres is the worst!
The movie and Larson are Oscar-nominated. Do get in touch with your thoughts!