Review: Remarkable performances build ‘Room’ foundation

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

“Room” is a moving tale of survival set against a backdrop of extraordinary circumstances, as a mother and her son live inside and ultimately escape a small, enclosed space that becomes their physical and mental prison.

That space is Room — never “a room” or “the room,” just Room. And as the two captives, Ma (Brie Larson) and Jack (newcomer Jacob Tremblay) do stunning, thoroughly convincing work, their relationship becomes the beating heart of the film.

As “Room” begins, Jack is celebrating his fifth birthday and has never stepped foot outside of Room. He has no concept of a world outside of Room, thinking that the outdoors is outer space and everything else in the world is trapped inside the television.

Jack narrates the film, which effectively puts viewers into his naive head space. Director Lenny Abrahamson, working from a script by Emma Donoghue (adapted from her own 2010 bestselling novel), lays out the space so we know it as intimately as its inhabitants do: the sink where they clean up dishes, the bathtub where they wash themselves, the clothing line where they hang their clothes, the bed where they sleep, the closet where Jack sleeps when Ma is visited by their captor, Old Nick (Sean Bridgers).

Old Nick kidnapped Ma seven years ago and has held her prisoner in his tiny garden shed ever since, entering and leaving through a code-locked door. One night he turns off the heat to Room, setting in motion a chain of events that lead to Jack’s escape and Ma’s rescue, which unfolds as one of the most thrilling, emotionally overwhelming and heart-racing sequences of any movie this year.

Once out, Ma and Jack have to deal with a whole new set of life challenges, adjusting to the world outside of Room. Ma’s parents Nancy (Joan Allen) and Robert (William H. Macy) are there to help her adjust, though they’ve split up since Ma’s capture, with Nancy now living with Leo (Tom McCamus). Compounding their issues is Ma is now a media superstar, with news outlets camped out on the front lawn of their home trying to get access to her story.

“Room” is anchored by Larson’s unbreakable performance, which calls on her to be strong, protective, frail, damaged, maternal, childlike, angry and defeated, oftentimes all at once. The remarkable Larson has shown this sort of depth and range before, in 2013’s magnificent, underseen “Short Term 12,” but “Room” is set to elevate her to the big leagues, and the Oscar buzz she’s earning for the role is richly deserved. “Room” is her arrival.

Equally effective is Tremblay, who plays Jack with the right amount of innocence and wonder, while never turning sentimental or sappy. A few wrong steps and his performance could have derailed the film or sent it into annoying territory, but Tremblay — who turned 9 earlier this month — is a marvel.

“Room” is at turns harrowing and hopeful, a rush of a film about a mother’s relationship with her child. Its action peaks early and the second half doesn’t resonate as strongly as the first, but Larson and Tremblay radiate a warmth that transcends the screen.



Rated: R for language

Running time: 118 minutes