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Director Lenny Abramson threads a particularly fine needle with “Room.”  He takes what could be a particularly dark and brutal story — this is a movie about a woman who is kidnapped and held in a modified garden shed for 7 years, and then, once she escapes, descends into depression and attempts suicide — and directs it in a way that emphasizes wonder, exploration, and joy to the point that it verges on being cloying and sentimental.  I can think of a few other movies that tried to marry dark-as-night subject matter with toothpaste sunshiny tone (“The Lovely Bones,” which has similar subject matter, and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” which was about 9/11) and both failed, hard.  So it’s almost a miracle that “Room” succeeds, and even more, that it manages to be one of the best films of the year.

The lion’s share of the credit should go to Brie Larsen, who continues to prove that she is one of the most talented young actresses working today.  She has a grit and strength about her that reminds me often of Jennifer Lawrence, and she manages to balance an overly precious and cutesy performance by 5-year-old Jacob Tremblay (don’t blame the kid, blame the casting director.) One look at Larsen’s face reminds us that she is in a living hell, even as she devotes every fiber of her being to make it a safe, stable, positive environment for her son. Because he was born in and has never left the garden shed where they are held captive by a man they call Old Nick, she has told him that nothing exists outside of the room; nothing but space, and maybe aliens.  Everything on TV is fake or magic; only the things around them are. Room is everything, and for a five-year-old, it is perfectly enough.

You’d expect a movie about a kidnapping to work a certain way, but when Larsen and Tremblay do manage to escape (less than halfway through the film,) it becomes clear that Abramson (and/or Emma Donoghue, who wrote both the best-selling novel and the screenplay) are up to something different. Both of them struggle to deal with the world outside: for Tremblay, it’s completely overwhelming, but he slowly adjusts to it. For Larsen, finally being free ignites a deep rage as well as depression in her; it’s brought home to her how much she has lost in those seven years, and how much life has gone on without her.

In that way, I think “Room” is, on one level, a metaphor for what every parent (but most often, and most intensely, stay-at-home mothers) go through when their kids begin to leave the close and confining world of home and explore what else is out there. It’s probably not a coincidence that Tremblay is five, the age that most kids start elementary school.

I wonder what “Room” would feel like without Tremblay’s voiceover, or without the cloying score. These are the kinds of things that make it clear to me a director is more interesting in manipulating my emotions than in telling a powerful story. But perhaps in the case of “Room,” it’s ok to juice the emotions a little, to keep the underlying story from overwhelming the film’s themes.  I don’t know.  It’s a tricky game, and, as I said, I very fine needle to thread.  “Room” pulls it off.  It’s pretty amazing.



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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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