Rating: A-/ Room is a pleasant surprise; a film that lives up to the novel on which it was based. Most of this is due to the two fabulous leading performances, including some of the best child acting I’ve seen in ages by Jacob Tremblay, who plays Jack, the five year old protagonist. While Brie Larson, as Jack’s mother, nabbed a best leading actress Oscar for her role, I couldn’t help but think Tremblay should have gone home with one of those suckers. As my dad, who reluctantly saw this movie with my mom and I, said, “To Hell with Leonardo DiCaprio. Give this kid an Oscar!”
It was a somewhat presumptuous statement, considering none of us had seen The Revenant, for which DiCaprio had won the Oscar, but one I tended to agree with. Tremblay does in fact give a turn that is every bit as fiercely expressive and intense as Larson. Wouldn’t it have been great if they had both won? (unfortunately, Tremblay wasn’t even nominated, but the critics had a lot of good stuff to say about his performance. This kid has a future ahead of him, assuming he doesn’t go the Macaulay Culkin route.)
Jack (Tremblay) just turned five, and his Ma (Larson) celebrates by making him a birthday cake. Jack is like many kids of his age; bright, curious, argumentative, and hyper; but his situation is extraordinary. Ma is a kidnapping victim living in a small shed with Jack, her captor’s child, every night ‘Old Nick’ (Sean Bridgers) comes into the shed and takes sexual advantage of Ma while Jack hides in the wardrobe. Old Nick is the worst kind of sexual predator, a gloating, self righteous perv who wants to convince Ma how bad he has it providing for her worthless ass (as if she signed up to be imprisoned in a shed and raped repeatedly), and Ma starts to plan an escape with Jack.
The thing is, Jack has never been outside of Room; to him, room is the world, and his mother has never tried to convince him otherwise, believing it would drive him crazy if he knew how much more was just outside his reach. Jack’s uniquely innocent viewpoint (he greets each object and article of furniture in Room each day as if they were sentient beings) makes him a one of a kind, endearing protagonist. But when they do escape, Ma and Jack have trouble adjusting, and Ma makes a drastic decision that might change everything.
The movie is split into two parts, the first half, where Ma and Jack are confined to Room and at Old Nick’s mercy; and part two, when Ma is reunited with her mom and dad (Joan Allen and William H. Macy) and Jack must contend with a world he never knew existed, spelling big changes for everyone. Some people thought part II was not up to par with part I, but I disagree. Although the two halves are very different in many ways (the first being claustrophobic and squirmy and the second being a more standard relationship drama,) but I think they worked together as cohesively as they could.
As I stated before, Larson and Tremblay are incredible here, and the rest of the cast backs them up nicely. The film asks thought-provoking questions about the fundamentals of motherhood; could you love a child of rape? Was Ma selfish to keep Jack in Room with her, when she presumably could have asked Old Nick to drop him off at the nearest hospital? I have my doubts that Jack would have necessarily been any better off in a foster home, the wonder of Ma’s character is that she provides Jack with a life as normal as she was able. She managed to love Jack as her own despite everything, never once resenting him for the fact that he was his child. She wasn’t always exactly warm, but for better or worse, Jack is her child and no one else’s.
It’s definitely compelling and heart-wrenching to see how Jack responds to the outside world for the first time, experiencing routine sights such as dogs, trees, and grappling with endlessly frustrating sets of stairs with a genuine sense of wonder. We’ve seen movies about young people forced to deal with situations of extreme isolation and abuse (Francois Truffaut’s The Wild Child, Werner Herzog’s The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser,) but never before have we seen a film about a mother’s love sustaining her child in a truly unlivable situation. And no matter how grim the scenario in this film gets, a sense of wearied hope shines through. It’s hard at times to watch, but never graphically violent or gratuitous. Room is fully worth discovering, just make sure to keep your tissues handy.