Monday, January 25, 2016

In Theaters: ROOM (2015)

(Ireland/Canada - 2015)

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson. Written by Emma Donoghue. Cast: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, Sean Bridgers, Tom McCamus, Wendy Crewson, Amanda Brugel, Joe Pingue, Cas Anvar, Randal Edwards. (R, 118 mins)

Adapted by Emma Donoghue from her best-selling 2010 novel, ROOM is a harrowing, grueling, yet ultimately uplifting drama that's one of 2015's finest films. Cementing her place as one of the top actresses of today, Oscar-nominated Bree Larson is Joy, a 24-year-old woman who was abducted seven years earlier from her suburban Ohio neighborhood by a man she dubs "Old Nick" (Sean Bridgers, who had a somewhat similar abductor role in the Lucky McKee horror film THE WOMAN). Locked in a fortified backyard shed with only a skylight to show any trace of the outside world, Joy has a five-year-old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), fathered by Old Nick, who still regularly forces her to submit to his sexual demands while Jack hides in a closet. "Room," as Joy and Jack call it, is their only world, as Jack has never been past the door and has no concept of people or society. Joy and Jack have a loving relationship, spending every waking moment together, and she's fiercely protective of him, standing her ground and refusing to let Old Nick near him. Joy learns Old Nick has been unemployed for six months, which explains why he's been increasingly frugal with the supplies he provides, and coupled with Jack's fifth birthday, she realizes it's time to start planning an escape.

That's only part of the film, which splits its story into roughly equal halves of one hour each. Once a series of circumstances results in Jack getting out and Old Nick being arrested, Joy must not only reintegrate herself into society after being locked in a shed for seven years, but Jack must quickly adjust to the existence of world he never had the ability to contemplate. Shell-shocked and terrified to leave his mother's side, Jack very slowly warms to life with Joy's mother Nancy (Joan Allen, terrific as always). Nancy and Joy's father Robert (William H. Macy) have divorced in the seven years since her abduction, with Nancy's significant other now Leo (Tom McCamus), who Joy remembers as being an old family friend. It takes time for Joy and Jack to adjust to the freedom, with Jack periodically missing the security he felt in "Room," the only place he's ever known.

Director Lenny Abrahamson (FRANK) takes a methodical and unflinching approach to both the day-to-day confinement and the ultimate liberation of Joy and Jack. He conveys the sense of claustrophobic dread and terror but admirably never goes for the exploitative in his depiction of Old Nick's repeated violations of Joy, only showing a cowering Jack in the closet and trusting the audience to understand what's happening. He also pulls no punches in the natural, human flaws of the characters, unafraid to show Joy as impatient and angry or Jack as occasionally unappreciative and bratty. Even once they're safe with Nancy and Leo, tensions flare but there's always a sense of love and perserverance. It's ultimately a feel-good story, but it earns it by never feeling forced or manipulative. No one is really sure how to react to anything, particularly Robert, whose cold reaction and refusal to even look at Jack doesn't necessarily make him a bad person, but certainly one who has no place in their lives now. The focus is the love between Joy and Jack but the bond that Jack separately develops with Nancy and especially with Leo, who steps up to be the father and grandfather Robert can't and won't be, is very touching (McCamus' warm and sympathetic performance may be ROOM's stealthiest secret weapon). Larson, a gifted young actress who should've been nominated for an Oscar a few years ago for her indie breakthrough turn in SHORT TERM 12, is unforgettable as Joy, and she's matched in every way by nine-year-old Tremblay, who turns in one of cinema's most remarkable performances by a child actor. With maybe the most perfect closing scene in any film of 2015, ROOM is a gut-wrenching, devastating ordeal about tragedies overcome and lives moving on. Don't miss it.

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