Room

A24 Films
Rated R for language.
Running time: 118 minutes.
Four stars out of four.

This is one of those situations in which mere words seem insufficient in describing a film’s profoundly moving power.

I can tell you this much, plainly and without shame: I sobbed throughout “Room,” about a mother and her 5-year-old son trapped inside a sparsely furnished, 10-by-10-foot space, and I started doing so long before the story turned truly harrowing. And afterward, I walked home from the screening room — 2.87 miles to be exact, I mapped it — to process my feelings. Did director Lenny Abrahamson’s film wreck me because it’s truly great, or because I also have a 5-year-old boy and motherhood has, as I’d long feared, turned me irreparably soft?

“Room” is indeed that great — but I might also be a ninny. In its poetry and power, its intimate details and ambitious ideas, it’s simultaneously devastating and mesmerizing. The truth at its core, which Abrahamson achieves through pure and subtle observations, is what astonishes again and again. Within this nightmare scenario, a mother and child have crafted for themselves a tangible fairy-tale world. They refer to the small area they share as Room. The window above their heads is Skylight. Ma’s bad tooth is — appropriately and affectionately — Bad Tooth. The boy, Jack, regards them all as treasured friends. But an enemy also lurks: Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), the volatile, middle-aged man who put them there and makes frightening, nightly visits.

But despite the extreme events that led to their cramped captivity, there’s a realism to the relationship between Ma and Jack. They stick to a relatable routine — every minute matters, every day matters. They have a comfortable shorthand, the result of spending every single moment together. They make the most with what they have. They take care of each other.

Every parent will recognize himself or herself in Brie Larson’s Ma: She’s proud of her boy when he figures something out and frustrated with herself when she snaps at him too quickly. She answers his increasingly probing questions with patience and tries to protect him as long as she can. She’s a great mother, even though she didn’t choose to be one. It’s all there on the page in Emma Donaghue’s elegantly efficient screenplay, which she adapted from her best-selling novel. But the abidingly authentic performances from Larson and young Jacob Tremblay are what bring these words vividly to life.

If you saw Larson in her first, real starring role in the criminally under-seen “Short Term 12,” or in standout supporting parts in films like “The Spectacular Now” or “Trainwreck” or the Showtime series “United States of Tara,” you knew what she could do — you knew of her naturalism and her presence. Here, she conveys so much with just her posture, with the slightest glance. There’s nothing showy about her performance and yet you can’t take your eyes off her. She just never hits a false note (and rarely does the film as a whole). And she has a deeply believable chemistry with Tremblay, who’s excellent in a complicated, demanding role. There’s nothing cutesy about him — there’s not the timiest whiff of child-star precociousness. He is just totally in the moment all the time. He’s a tremendous find.

You may have noticed that I haven’t written much about plot yet, and that’s intentional. Yes, the trailers and even the signature image on the posters reveal that eventually, Ma (who’s only 24 and whose real name is Joy) and Jack escape their prison in a scene of meticulous timing and breathtaking suspense. They return to the outside world, something Jack only knew of from images on a beat-up television set and glimmers from the skylight, but for a while it’s more of a place of obstacles than opportunities.

The second half might seem more ordinary than the first, perhaps because it’s a world we actually know and one that seems safe. But it’s fraught with its own perils, both externally and internally, and how Joy and Jack navigate them together gives this section of “Room” an even larger kind of heart and even a sense of hope. They get help from a superb supporting cast, led by Joan Allen as Joy’s relieved mother and Tom McCamus as her stepdad, who forges his own lovely, unexpected connection with Jack. (William H. Macy, as her detached father, might have gotten more to do but that’s a minor quibble.)

And that’s all I want to say about “Room,” for now, at least. Please go experience it for yourself and let the emotions and revelations wash over you — and then come back and let me know that I’m not alone in being reduced to a puddle.

16 Comments on “Room

  1.  by  Lindsay Nelson

    The book was an amazing experience just for its structure and the fact that we saw everything through Jack’s eyes and in his very unique voice. Really thrilled to hear from multiple reviews that the movie seems to have pulled off the same magic, can’t wait to see it.

    •  by  Christy Lemire

      I hear the book is great. I should read it. But that would entail finding time to read.

  2.  by  Nick Pustay

    You are absolutely not alone. This film just crushed me. I’m the father of an almost 5 year-old boy, so I may have also been an easy target. But, still…I’m in awe of this film. You’re right, words can’t completely describe the emotional effect of the film. But even more so, for me…words just can’t describe everything they got right about childhood. I’m watching my son go through his “wonder years” now — and it all feels so incredibly resilient and fragile at the same time. As a dad, I want to be the one who opens the world up to him — yet, at times, I feel like the one holding him back from all that. This film captured all of that — and obviously, so much more.

  3.  by  Hua

    Christy, you’re most definitely not alone! Anyone with a heart would be broken in half by Room. I’m just a teen and I still feel like I was tremendously affected by it. I was in tears all throughout the screening, and afterwards (just like you and Ben) I couldn’t help but spend the new couple of hours alone, just deep in thought. Like, what did I just see?! :’)

  4.  by  Lester Jones

    Christy:

    I am not weepy at all, but that scene with the red truck just sliced me open. I just wanted to run onto the screen to grab him and protect him. ………….3 days later I still get misty thinking about it………………..That effect reminded of me of something the great Roger Ebert once said……………“Every once in a while I have what I think of as an out-of-the-body experience at a movie. When the ESP people use a phrase like that, they’re referring to the sensation of the mind actually leaving the body and spiriting itself off to China or Peoria or a galaxy far, far away. When I use the phrase, I simply mean that my imagination has forgotten it is actually present in a movie theater and thinks it’s up there on the screen. In a curious sense, the events in the movie seem real, and I seem to be a part of them.”

    •  by  Lisa Tsering

      Well said. I’m a mom too and I remember staying up all night reading Room when the book came out, and the escape scene in the book just slayed me.
      Then Lenny Abrahamson goes ahead and brings that escape scene to life with perfect music and editing, and it is EVEN BETTER.
      Saw the film last night and I’m still shaken up in a good way.

  5.  by  Lana

    I saw Room at TIFF. I chose it because of Brie Larson… but unsure because I’d heard the book was dark. What the heck… I’ll go.

    Whoa, am I glad I did. And wow… what a movie!

    Harrowing is a great word to describe my feelings. I was literally on the edge of my seat, heart pounding, tissue dabbing. (I like TIFF because I make a point of avoiding trailers or reviews, so I had no idea whether they escaped ROOM, adding to my emotional angst.)

    So Christy, I cried too. And my son is 31.

    Again… wow… what a movie.

  6.  by  Jeff

    Saw Room as a main feature at a film festival after seeing Spotlight a couple of nights earlier. An emotionally wrenching movie week, but both films are very well done with tough subject matter.

    My spouse had pretty much the same reaction to you in all the same places, and ours are now adult children. Caught myself wanting to yell to the bystanders during the red truck scene…

    I didn’t think a couple of the scenes were executed as well as they could have been, and I didn’t entirely buy the play-out of the rug scene. But those are minor points.

    One thing is for sure – you didn’t overstate Brie Larson’s performance. She was tremendous and will rival Carey Mulligan (Suffragette) for best actress from what I’ve seen so far this year (haven’t seen Carol yet).

    I’m guessing the William Macy part wound up mostly on the editing room floor.

    I didn’t read the book, so I went in without that expectation, though I did know somewhat the subject material. Overall, agree with your assessment – very well done and it would be difficult not to be emotionally engaged.

  7.  by  Dennis Bingham

    Christy, I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who found ROOM devastating, the most totalizing movie experience since BOYHOOD. I am a 61-year old man with a grown son, and I was in tears throughout ROOM. I saw it a week ago and there are moments I relive, such as Joy urgently telling Jack that there is an outside world, Jack’s moments in the red truck–one of the most outlandishly suspenseful sequences ever–Jack’s meeting the dog for the first time (I cop to being a dog lover) and his cutting off his hair finally because his mother “needs my strong.” I was surprised to hear criticism (both on Rotten Tomatoes and from a friend of mine) that the second half was “a let-down.” It’s Hollywood logic to think that rescues end plots. Perhaps personal experience does lead me here; I am a stem-cell transplant survivor and so I did strongly identify with the reverse quarantine Joy and Jack are placed into when they get home. The media circus the film alludes to without showing too much (except for the subtly horrifying TV interview which finally serves as the last straw for Joy, after all she’s been through. Lenny Abrahamson’s direction of Emma Donoghue’s script is both beautiful and precise in adhering to five-year-old Jack’s POV throughout. What the film suggests but doesn’t elaborate is also thrilling. Has Joy been waiting for Jack to become old enough to effect their escape? Why does Grandpa leave? Did Joy’s parents’ marriage fall apart due to the trauma of her disappearance? I know that most long-term disappearances don’t end happily, the case of the girls held captive in Cleveland (and the reason this story takes place in Akron?) being a bright exception; here in Indiana there have been a couple of long-term vanishings of female college students from the IU campus area. But still ROOM is a crushingly emotional experience. See it; it will enrich your life.

  8.  by  jozielee

    Read the book. Movie playing over 20 miles away. Too far. Why do they limit run so many movies. Cuts out those of us who don’t drive further than 5 mile radius from home to see a film.

    Anyway, I enjoyed the book. As another reader stated the first half of the story was hard to read, at first, since we’re getting the story from Jack’s POV. In a short space of time I was inside his head. I’m curious how the movie reflected his experiences. From the few scenes in the trailer I detect a few changes. Like the initial discord between Ma and Grandma (seems more pronounced in the film), Jack never gets the dog he so wants, and Jack/Ma never walk along the beach together. So I wonder how many other changes the director made to tell the story. Just curious.

    In your review you mention two (?) scenes that made you weepy. I’m usually sensitive, especially where children are concerned, yet I never had that feeling throughout the book. The story progressed at a matter-of-fact speed. The only time I felt afraid or protective of Jack was (1) when Old Nick wanted to look at him, (2) when Grandpa refused to look at him. Otherwise, Ma, Grandma/Steppa, and Noreen/Dr. Clay were always there to protect him.

    I’m glad the author kept reminding us how little time passed – inside and outside – Room. The timeframe explained Ma’s actions. Hopefully, it’s the same in the film.

    All toll, the book was ok, so I’m really looking forward to eventually seeing the film. Sounds like the director brought more emotion to the story.

    Thanks for your great review.

  9.  by  Jason

    Great movie. I saw it earlier today, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. The screenplay is brilliant. The scene where Ma realizes she has to tell Jack the truth so that she can solicit his help is masterful–the boy’s anger and confusion, the mother’s frustration but ultimate conviction. I have a 5-year-old daughter, and the tone the movie sets with this child is pitch perfect. There’s not a false note about the observation of childhood here, even in these extreme circumstances.

    Other great moments: the police officer who persists despite her partner’s apathy; Jack telling his grandma that he loves her; William H. Macy’s heartbreaking cameo as a man who can’t acknowledge his grandson.

    This is a great movie, hands down.

    •  by  very rm dee

      I have yet to hear a review that mentions the tenacious cop (although I will say IRL an ambulance would have been called too). She is also a hero. She is listening while the other cop is saying the kid sounds drugge/needle I a haystack. The fact she said look for satellite pictures of a red truck and shed with a skylight. brilliant.

      I also though the Diane Sawyer/ Barbara Walters interview didn’t ring true. I can’t imagine such cruelty.

  10.  by  Vincent

    I am not a movie crier, but this movie made me cry two minutes into it and I did not stop until literally the last shot.

  11.  by  sissyinhwd

    I haven’t cried, I should say sobbed, this much in one movie since THE JOY LUCK CLUB or on TV at the finale of SIX FEET UNDER. Great film all around!

  12.  by  LL

    You don’t have to be a parent to be moved by this film. The emotional power of Room hit me by surprise. I was a complete mess for a lot of the movie. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are amazing (and great to see Joan Allen too).