Room may come across as a divisive film. Brie Larson is incredibly talented and her role here as Ma or Joy Newsom is another piece of evidence to support that. Jack, as played by Vancouver native Jacob Tremblay, is an engrossing character and he is played to an extraordinary standard by the young actor. In fact, all facets of acting are near perfect. But this movie seems to exist as an actors showcase and that’s it.
Emma Donoghue released her novel, Room, to critical acclaim and went on to become a New York Times best-seller. And generally, with all popular novels, an adaptation needed to be made for the silver screen. Thankfully, Donoghue herself took the reins and wrote the adaptation. The script, for the most part, is incredibly well done. All characters seem to be well thought out (aside from William H Macy’s five minute cameo), pacing seems to work, and there is an adequate beginning, middle and end. What comes apart for the film is the one-dimensionality of most characters.
While striving for a narrative focus, Ma and Jack are the focal point of the film, and rightly so, but from having the film mainly seen from the eyes of the boy, all characters are seen from the eyes of right or wrong. Instead of giving us room for sympathy or understanding, we view all other characters in a flat view without being able to undergo any sort of evolution. I will not spoil any plot elements, but Macy’s character, in particular, is only existent for the purpose of shedding a light on an aspect of abuse and tragedy before he leaves and the film can’t go any deeper into the issue because of that. Room may want to shed a light on the importance of the tragedy faced by the central characters, but will do so at the detriment of the rest of the movie.
Even Lenny Abrahamson feels particularly inept at making the movie look particularly interesting. Room isn’t shot like a Lifetime movie by any means, but it doesn’t look particularly stunning either. Shots don’t tend to focus on anything but the foreground and gives the film another instance of lacking depth. The cinematography from Danny Cohen looks particularly bland and uninteresting (not that that’s surprising after looking at his credits that include movies from Tom Hooper’s filmography).
I may be coming down hard on Room for things that may seem secondary to the film, but that’s because of how affecting the relationship of Ma and Jack is. While they may be the only focal point, their relationship is the one strength that carries the film and the rest of the movie runs with it. I was astounded at how well their bond works within the confines of a two hour story, but this is almost all thanks to the work of Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. The material from Donoghue is also strong, I might add. Sure, there seems to be a sense of her novel feeling truncated as story elements feel dropped almost as suddenly as they were picked up, but Donoghue’s writing is able to create the relationship that works so well. I just wish the writing was strong enough to help other characters throughout as well.
Every other aspect of the film that isn’t mentioned is adequate. For their small roles, Joan Allen and Tom McCamus are particularly heart-warming as characters I won’t reveal here. With the film split in two halves, it is slightly jarring to adjust. The cold and bleak first sequence is, obviously, the hardest to watch. Between the small space shared between two people, and the villainous performance from Sean Bridgers (of Rectify fame, he needs to find another type of character to play), it’s hard to crawl out of, but the childish perspective ultimately makes it tolerable. I just wish that perspective was loosened towards the latter half of the film.
Room showed a lot of promise and I still find that it succeeded to a degree. The central performances and their story were all used to the best of their abilities and this carried me through the rest of the movie which sagged and disappointed. I would still recommend it just on the central relationship alone. It rings true with such beauty and power that I can’t entirely say that it’s not worth seeing. Just go in with reservations.