Room is a fantastic, heartbreaking film, anchored by two incredible performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay.
Note that this review contains spoilers.
So much of the film was perfect, that I’ll just get my grievances out of the way first. The score was too on-the-nose and emotive; often actually distracting me from what was going on. Jack’s narrations were a bit of a crutch at times, going beyond moving to cutesy and then to excessive. In my view, the cinematography was frightfully dull at times; there was few to no creative attempts to emphasise the themes of the film through the camerawork. I also think the script faltered in the second half of the film. THe second half is really the key, and Donoghue did a pretty good job with it overall, but it struggles to bridge the gap between failing to readjust to life, and suddenly having a cathartic breakthrough about “Room” not being the entire world. It was a little incoherent and meandering there, and it’s a shame because the scenes taken by themselves are strong, but there’s just not enough unity in purpose in the second half.
Those issues aside, the film was a beautiful and realistic take on a tremendously evil situation some poor, poor people go through, and the harrowing steps to trying to reintegrate into the world once such a situation is over (for those who manage to escape it). The pacing is really the key here, the two halves are both great on their own, but putting them together as one film is what really gives the film the thematic unity that makes it so powerful. There’s no “what happened after”, so much as “what happened” – it’s all the one story.
The film deals with extremely dark subject matter, but tonally it’s from Jack’s perspective, and most of the darkness lies in implications. With a poorer child actor, this really wouldn’t have worked, but Tremblay was fantastic. Larson and Tremblay’s performances are absolutely incredible. They make the film. Director Lenny Abrahamson can’t be praised enough for getting such performances out of his cast. In the second half of the film, the awkwardness of the new family situation would have been difficult to depict, but the whole cast does tremendously well (hats off to William H. Macy for his fantastic performance in his final scene of the film).
There’s no neat endings here. A terrible, wicked thing happened, and it doesn’t magically go away or be fixed after they escape. Jack is a living reminder of the evil Joy was subjected to for years and years, and Joy’s dad can’t accept that. Joy’s mum struggles too – this is a family unit that shouldn’t exist; Joy shouldn’t have been raped, Jack shouldn’t’ have been born…but “should” is useless. It did happen, Jack was born, and he’s a beautiful child. I think it makes perfect sense that it’s Joy’s mum’s boyfriend that first succeeds in connecting with Jack, as he wasn’t part of the original family unit. Joy awkwardly reverts into inhabiting the sullen child role when living with her mother again. It takes that outsider, the boyfriend, to kind of break through the clutter and make the first real communication with Jack, and steps in establishing the new family unit where Jack is accepted.
This is a moving film, dealing with extremely difficult subject matter in a mature way. Even with a weaker script, a cast as skilled as this would have produced an amazing film, but as it is, the film is nearly the whole package. A tremendous effort.
I give it four skylights, and a clipping of hair.