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CLTure Quick Hit: Room

By Dan Cava

November 29, 2015

CLTure Quick Hits are brief reviews of films in limited Charlotte release, the kind of movies that can be hard to spot through the wall of “event” movies churned out by Hollywood throughout the year. Be sure to hit these movies quickly, as their stay in theaters tends to be shorter than the blockbusters.

Playing exclusively at Regal Ballantyne Village theater, Room is the tense and touching story of Joy, a young woman who, after being abducted and impregnated as a teenager, must raise her son Jack within the confines of a single room, her captors backyard shed.

Director Lenny Abrahamson and screenwriter Emma Donoghue (adapting her own novel) make a number of clutch decisions in bringing this difficult material to the screen. First, they rigorously avoid even a hint of exploitation by anchoring their visual and narrative choices in Jack’s experience. The straightforward awfulness of the situation is plain enough, and Abrahamson and Donoghue understand that the movie would be unbearable, even hypocritical, if they had not found a way around the abuse and violations inherent to the narrative. We quickly learn that Joy has devised an elaborate system to help Jack thrive in the room while shielding him from its depraved subtext. While very grown-up things happen on a regular basis to Joy at the hands of their captor (things movie ratings often refer to as “thematic material”), we the audience are mercifully protected along with Jack. Joy’s bedtime stories and daily routines even allow for flashes of wonder and discovery, so that while Room is hardly comfortable, it is enormously humane.

Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay star in "Room." (Ruth Hurl/Element Pictures)
Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay star in “Room.” (Ruth Hurl/Element Pictures)

Second, Abrahamson and Donoghue base the movie’s emotional stakes around the total well-being of Jack and Joy, and not just around their plight in the shed. It’s a little hard to know what constitutes a spoiler for a movie based on a New York Times bestseller whose trailer contains moments outside of the eponymous room; but suffice to say, regardless of Joy and Jack’s state of captivity, the movie never leaves the core dramatic question: Will they be okay? Our investment in their relationship holds us through the changing dramatic circumstances, so that when the movie loses steam halfway through, it doesn’t lose heart.

Finally, and most importantly, the filmmakers employ the perfect cast. Brie Larson is stunning as a young mother who, since age seventeen, has called upon every reserve of strength, intelligence, and maternal warmth to nurture a child under unthinkable circumstances. Larson brings us a fully-formed portrayal of a woman who herself is only partially formed, as Joy is both stunted by her isolation and wise beyond her years. Young Jacob Tremblay gives Jack the miraculously effortless behavior that directors pray for when casting children. The bond between the actors seems to have existed from birth, and while a handful of accomplished actors nicely fill out the otherwise sparse cast list, it’s the efforts of Larson and Tremblay that carry the movie.

Part thriller and part family examination, Room is a careful adaptation that creates beauty in its claustrophobic concept. Room is a small movie both by story and by design, but within the self-imposed limitations, it rewards with swells of suspense, intimate insight, and earnest emotion.  

Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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