Typically after I see a movie people will rightly wonder ‘did you like the movie?’ and usually it’s easy to give a yes or no answer. However, sometimes a movie forces me to go on for paragraphs about how I responded. The answer isn’t simple particularly when there were such strong elements and the things I didn’t like I’m honestly not sure how much weight to give them. I guess you could say my response is nuanced and complicated. Room (not The Room!) is such a film.
Room is based on the novel by Emma Donoghue, which was in turn inspired by the true story of Elisabeh Fritzl who was held captive by her father in a room for 24 years! I have read the book and for 2/3rds of it I was transfixed. It is told from the perspective of the 5 year old little boy who only knows the room he and his mother are held captive in. But the final 1/3 when they are adjusting to life outside Room to me didn’t quite work as the responses of the boy felt overly precocious. I missed seeing more of how Ma, the woman, was adjusting. Still definitely worth reading but that was my response.
So then what about the movie? Well, first of all, it was a very odd screening experience. We got right up to the climax of the movie when little Jack is escaping and the emergency alert went on and we had to evacuate the theater! Talk about leading you to the edge and leaving you hanging! I’ve only had that happen one other time to me when I took my brother to see Avatar of all things. But it was a weird experience because during the break I realized how involved with the film I had gotten. Despite having read the book and knowing how it would all turn out my heart was racing and I felt a little flushed. It was weird because I don’t think I’ve ever had a chance to stop a film and analyze my physical reactions during the climax. I’m usually too involved in said climax to notice.
Anyway, we got watching again and I had calmed down a bit and the climax continued. It was very good. Extremely gripping but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some of the same problems with the final 3rd of the movie that I had with the book. What works in seeing a child’s understanding of Room feels simplistic when dealing with the horrors Ma has gone through. I wish both book and movie had switched (despite how much I hate that technique) narrators and focused on the adult not the child in recovery. It’s still good. Don’t get me wrong. I just didn’t think it was perfect as some reviewers have claimed.
In some ways this movie and book remind me a little bit of The Help. It’s way more somber than The Help but I think both books/movies portray a very difficult time in as rosy glasses as possible. F or instance, it seems hard to believe that the predator Old Nick wouldn’t have ever seen or hurt Jack over all those years. Similarly in The Help it is not realistic that a black woman at that time period could do what Minnie does without being killed by Klansmen. But I loved The Help because of the strong characters and Room also has very strong characters.
I feel like this review is coming across negative but that’s not my intention. I just have this jumbled feelings about this movie/book. The acting by Brie Larson as Ma was tremendous. She is trying so hard to save her child but at the same time is literally beaten down every night. It’s like she is putting on a performance every day of her life.
The world she is able to create for her son in Room and the way she explains TV feels authentic and it is very moving. Jacob Tremblay is outstanding as little Jack with anger, naivety, fear, whimsy that I bought every time. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is nominated for best supporting actor and it would be deserved.
It’s also a film that looks beautiful and was directed well by Lenny Abrahamson. As I mentioned I was completely engrossed in the Room section and the climax to the point of a physical reaction. I also thought the scenes after Room were better than the book, even if I wish it had more of Ma’s perspective instead of Jack.
When I came out of the film I was upset- still tearing up as I made my way to the car. I said to myself ‘that was a great movie and I never want to see it again’. I posted on twitter that ‘rewatchability is not the be all end all in what makes a good movie’. Schindler’s List is an easy example or Amistad, The Color Purple, among others that were gut wrenching and painful, great films but I never want to experience that again.
Recently this fall I saw Spotlight and that was sobering and devastating in many ways but I felt inspired by it. I would totally watch that movie again. Room is about a woman who does all she can to create a world for her son, a world of beauty and light but in Room and even to an extent post-rescue she isn’t given much light back in return. It’s just so devastating.
Maybe part of it is to know that it is all based on the Fritzl case which is Holocaust level of horror? I don’t know.
I know this is a very jumbled review but that’s honestly how I felt about the movie- jumbled. The acting is amazing. I love what Ma sacrifices to create a world for her son. Brie Larson is someone I don’t know very well and she is just phenomenal as is Jacob Tremblay (and Joan Allen as her mother is good. I liked some changes they made in her character from the book but the addition of a new husband I thought was unneeded).
You see things like Elizabeth Smart and watch a movie like Room and it gives you hope that even in the worse of circumstances the human heart can find a reason to keep going. That is perhaps the greatest thing Lenny Abrahamson has done with this film.
On the downside I do think some of the plot elements feel a little unrealistic which is jarring given the realism of the piece. I also wish I got more of Ma’s perspective then Jack’s outside of Room.
All and all, it is definitely worth seeing and experiencing. I think it is good that not every film is tidy and easy to decide on. I may see it again some day and think my little reservations are silly or they may bother me more. I’m not sure. I was thinking about waiting to post this review so I could ponder it even more, but decided with Star Wars coming at the end of the week I better do it now.
As far as content there was a group of women near me who hated the film because it was sad. This response baffles me. Did they think the story of the woman kidnapped with her child in one room would be a pick-me-up? Do people not do any research at all before seeing a movie? I understand people don’t want spoilers but literally a 2 sentence synopsis of the film should let you know it is going to be a tough, sobering movie.
But this is an R rating mostly for tone and topic (obviously) because all the rape and abuse is only heard not seen (very chillingly so). Then we just see the aftermath and devastation. There is some language but not much but it is definitely a film for adults only because of the mature topics!
So that’s my jumbled up, confused thoughts on Room. It is a very good film but it is also a tough watch I wish had done a few little things differently. Definitely go see it but just know what you are getting yourself into and bring tissues!
Overall Grade- A-