Monday, January 18, 2016

Room

2.5/4

Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, Tom McCamus, Sean Bridgers

Rated R for Language

"Room," not to be confused with Tommy Wiseau's camp classic "The Room," is film about a fascinating, if disturbing, situation: what would it be like for a five year old to experience the outside world after having lived his entire life in a small room?  Although this idea has baffled many a philosopher over the years, "Room" opts for a more sensible, down to earth approach.  In this case, the child is offspring of a kidnapped woman and her captor.

Jack (Tremblay) has just celebrated his fifth birthday.  His mother, Joy (Larson), is completely devoted to him and gives him all the love she can.  What is strange about their existence is that Joy was abducted by a man she dubs "Old Nick" (Bridgers) seven years ago and hasn't seen the outside world since.  Jack hasn't seen it at all.  What little he knows about the outside world is from the stories his ma tells him and the TV.  But after they are freed, they both realize that the world is a big scary place.

This is a compelling idea for a film.  The problem lies in the execution.  Director Lenny Abrahamson asks the right questions and doesn't shortchange the psychological impact that such a trauma would have on its characters, but the film is a bit of a mess.  Subplots are left hanging or not tied up in a satisfactory way, the plot is not free from contrivance, and there are times when many of Abrahamson's creative decisions are in the film just so he can appear "indie."  I hate it when directors do that.  It makes me want to scream, "Just tell the damn story!"  While not as obvious as some other filmmakers, there are times when it's obvious he's trying to be an auteur.

Brie Larson had a great year last year.  She's been on the rise since 2012 when she had a sizeable role in "21 Jump Street," but she stole scenes in "Trainwreck" and was tapped for an Oscar nomination (and as of right now, is the front runner for the win) for "Room."  It's no surprise; this is the deep, conflicted, "let it all hang out" kind of role that the Oscars love.  It helps that she gives a great performance (although for my money, I thought she was better in the Judd Apatow picture).  Her co-star is, like the film, uneven.  He's usually effective, but at times annoying.  He proves that it takes a strong director to successfully nurture a performance from a child actor.  Joan Allen is also very good as Joy's mother, filling the screen with some much needed love and warmth.

There is some good stuff here.  There's some suspense, surprise and pathos, and I was never bored.  But the film is so awkwardly constructed and the attempts at being "indie" further dampen the filmi's appeal.  I can't in good conscience recommend it, but if you have your heart set on seeing it, I'm not going to stop you.

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