Film Review: Room

Nominated for 4 Oscars including Best Picture, Room is a cinematic and moving experience that muses on life in captivity, the resilience of young minds and the bonds of parenthood. It’s in the cinema at Plymouth Arts Centre from 12 – 18 February.

Coinciding with the discovery of a Maoist cult in Enfield that kept its followers captive, in one case for thirty years, the release of Lenny Abrahamson’s Room could not be more apposite. Yet Room also reminds us that, while the world is full of people committing acts of senseless inhumanity, it also contains the capacity for hope and inspiration in the least likely of places.

Adapted by Emma Donoghue from her own bestseller, we peer inside a gloomy room containing “Ma” (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay). It transpires they are being held prisoner there by “Old Nick” (Sean Bridgers), who visits in the night when (he thinks) Jack is going to be asleep. Ma (who we later discover is called Joy, possibly ironically) has been kept in this tiny shed for seven years. It is only the birth of Jack that gives her a reason to live in such terrible circumstances. So we get an insight into the world they create with each other, with their own games, their own language, exercises and stories. Then, pretty much as soon as we get used to seeing these two enveloped in their chains, an opportunity to escape presents itself.

Donoghue’s script, like her book, is very much in two halves, examining the freedom they create while being trapped, contrasted with a kind of inertia they experience when released. We are given some engaging insights along the way into how these two aliens interpret their new surroundings. I must admit, though, that it was a tiny bit frustrating to see Abrahamson playing this one with such a straight bat. This is particularly since he usually has a terrific eye for the quirky outsider – most notably in 2014’s Frank (which I adore). And a few false notes are also hit along the way in trying to capture Jack’s thoughts in the narration, as he is overwhelmed by landing on our planet for the first time.

But the real strength of the film was always going to lie in the performances, which are uniformly great. Larson in particular deserves praise for a superb rendering of Joy. Her character is a panoply of expressions and emotions – tough and unfeeling one moment, fragile as porcelain the next. Within a single scene she manages to be both radiant and bouncy and so disconsolate she cannot get out of bed. A lesser actor would have come across as merely uneven and ruined the whole show, but Larson manages to capture all of these with a performance of seamless virtuosity.

With much to recommend it, including some of the best acting so far this year, Room is certainly worth getting out for.

Ieuan Jones

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