by ALEX CARNEVALE
dir. Lenny Abrahamson
Room begins with the voiceover of a five year old, Jack (Jacob Tremblay). He is not really a five-year old, since they had to cast someone older than five. It is refreshing to see a child in a film about adults, because children are so often portrayed as simply extraneous baggage. By the end, Jack’s mother Joy (Brie Larson) is telling him, “You saved me, twice,” like he is some kind of luck charm, and all the goodwill engendered by the film has evaporated.
After being imprisoned in a storage shed for seven years, Joy connives a plan to get out of there. The first idea she thought of previous to the events of the film was hitting her captor over the head with the lid of the toilet tank. This fails, since she could not enter the combination in the keypad that opens the door to the shed. Her second idea works much better: she wraps up their son in a carpet, pretends he is dead, and tells the boy to look for help before he is six feet underground.
It works, but her dad (William H. Macy) is so grossed out that his grandson is a product of rape that he can’t look at the kid. The therapist working with Jack has roughly the same haircut and facial hair as his abductor, so one-on-ones are kind of like getting attention from the father he never had. Men just don’t understand.
The movie goes on for about another hour after they get out of the room, so settle in for more voiceovers from a five year old: “Mom says we have to try everything once,” intones Jack, who seems to be doing rather well on the outside until his mom tries to kill herself after a television interview. Room follows its protagonists so far after their trauma it is a wonder we do not see Jack entering the college process.
Brie Larson is doing her best as Joy, but this is the definition of a thankless role. She screams at her mother for teaching her to be nice, which she claims is the reason she was abducted in the first place. On some level, she is far more upset that she was missing for years in the same city and no one ever came to look for me.
Larson oscillates between various emotions: anger, rage, disappointment. Unfortunately as soon as her mother enters the diegesis of Room, Joan Allen’s acting is so much better in comparison it feels like we finally have something real to focus on. Her new husband, Joy’s stepfather, inhabits the new male role in her life, telling Joy to “go easy” when she is mocking her mother.
Jacob Tremblay is effective as Jack, but like everything else in Room, his character is way too pat. Room feels like an afterschool special at some points, so complete in itself is the sadness and morality embedded in this ripped-from-the-headlines, drugstore empathy. There is nothing further to understand in Room that the protagonists don’t spell out for us. Dramatic irony cannot exist in such tight spaces.
Because Room never allows us to make more of its small tale than might be present at first glance, it is hard to take the pathos as authentic. We never see what happens to the man who caged them in a shed, or insight into why the monster exists. Perhaps director Lenny Abrahamson felt this would be too distracting from the main story being told, but the absence is deeply felt. We want to know why, because it is a part of uncovering the reason his victims turned out the way they did.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.
“All in the Mystery” – Kevin Gordon (mp3)