Movie Review: Room
True story: I went to grad school for writing but I don’t have a card for the library closest to our place. It’s a little embarrassing, I know. Bob, however, is an actual adult and does have a library card, and he got me Room by Emma Donoghue a few months ago. While sometimes I finish a library book more quickly because of the pending due date, with Room, I finished it quickly because it was amazing. It follows “Ma” and her son Jack, who live in one “Room” (technically a garden shed) because Ma got kidnapped by their captor seven years prior. Jack hasn't ever been outside of Room — as in, he thinks that other people are only in TV and doesn’t know that animals are real. The book is narrated through Jack’s perspective and is memorable in its detail; we know what they do on a day to day basis, what they eat, what games they play.
As with any movie that originates from a book—especially a book I like—I was curious to see how it would play out on the big screen. Unlike other movies from books, though, I wouldn’t actually change anything about this adaptation, which says a lot. The book and the movie remain two separate entities that, I think, can be enjoyed separately or together, which is rare.
While sure, we don’t get as much detail and the story is sped up a bit (it has to be, going from a full-length novel to a 2-hour movie), the movie does a great job of showing this story and the characters. I don’t want to give too much away, but the film is distinctly two parts that are roughly divided halfway; while it would be easy to prefer one over the other, the movie makes an even balance of emotion, sorrow, and (yes) even laughs throughout the whole film. Part of the intrigue of the movie is seeing how Ma and Jack survive, and the movie adds some great dialogue and scenes to showcase this.
The pacing is great and the cinematography is beautiful, but what really sets the movie apart from not only adaptations, but other films in general, is the acting. Brie Larson (Ma) and Jacob Tremblay (Jack) are magnificent. Their raw emotion is on the screen and it’s just fantastic. Larson, especially, displays emotion through just her facial expressions; we know what she is thinking when locked in Room and while Jack is talking in the background, without her having to say anything. Larson and Tremblay are probably getting my Oscar vote. Unless some other Ben Affleck movie comes out this year.
Stars: 5 out of 5
What to bring: Tissues; it’s a tearjerker
What to do before or after: Read the book! Reading is great. Even without library cards.
Room is a one-of-a-kind film (and novel). Its subject matter is unusual, if not entirely unheard of, but the tone is what really sets Room apart. The story at the core of Room is unbearably dark, but instead of being bleak, the film is hopeful and incredibly humane. It's a delicate balance that Lenny Abrahamson hits perfectly. It's an incredible directing accomplishment, especially considering its source material.
Room is exactly the kind of book that should be entirely unadaptable. The novel is told entirely from the perspective of a five-year old that (as any five-year old would be, much less one in Jack's circumstances) is an unreliable narrator. A lot of the tension and impact from the book comes from seeing the world through Jack's eyes and reading between the lines to discover just how dire his situation is.
The film works because it doesn't try to mimic the novel. The film is the same story from a different perspective. While Jack is the protagonist in the book, his mother becomes the protagonist in the film. So many films try to match their source material as faithfully as possible, but Room takes advantage of a new medium. The novel largely begins as a mystery. The film is an exploration.
The exploration works because the acting is phenomenal. Jacob Tremblay gives the best child performance I've ever seen on film, and effectively makes Haley Joel Osment look like Tommy Wiseau. Brie Larson is equally phenomenal as his mother. They are more convincing as mother and son than most actual mothers and sons. The less said about this film the better, so check it out if you have the chance.
How does it compare to other films involving children in dangerous situations?
Worse than: George Washington
Better than: Everything else