Wednesday, December 23, 2015


A few months ago, I blogged about the book Room by Emma Donoghue. It's the story of Jack, a five-year-old boy who has lived his entire life as a captive with his mother in a tiny room, which he think represents all of existence. Now that book has been made into a movie, a movie that is likely to figure into the coming Oscar race.

Although the movie script was written by the book's author and follows the major plot points quite closely, Room the movie is actually a quite different experience from Room the novel. The book is written entirely from Jack's point of view, in a display of great ingenuity by Emma Donoghue. The story is powerful and moving, but is simultaneously at a bit of an emotional remove because it's filtered through a five-year-old's perspective.

The movie does honor the spirit of this approach. Jack is in every scene; there's only a brief two or three seconds (at a pivotal moment) that he's not actually there to witness. He also occasionally jumps in as narrator, telling the audience what he thinks of the larger world he's now learning about. Still, we're seeing this story through a camera, not Jack's eyes, and the tone shifts as a result. Room the movie is much more brutal and visceral, making you identify much more with the emotions of Jack's mother Joy. The movie makes the audience confront the horrible reality of the situation more than the book does the reader.

Casting was absolutely essential in pulling off this story, and the movie nailed it. Brie Larson plays Joy, and is being talked about as not only a sure nominee for the Best Actress Oscar, but the likely front runner for the win. It's not just talk. Her performance is raw and sympathetic. Then there's Jacob Tremblay as Jack. About once a decade, along comes a movie with a newly discovered child actor who makes it all work. (Think The Sixth Sense.) Jacob Tremblay is that young actor for this decade. He's perfectly natural throughout the film, despite the story's incredible circumstances. He too would make a worthy Oscar nominee (though it's often the director of a film responsible for a good child performance; so kudos here to Lenny Abrahamson).

A slight spoiler here in this paragraph... (last chance!)... but there are other characters in the movie. Of particular note are Joan Allen and William H. Macy as Joy's parents. Allen is heartbreaking in a substantial role in the last half of the movie, while Macy is excellent in just a handful of scenes, consumed by guilt and anger in ways that the script doesn't explicitly spell out to the audience.

Forced to choose between the two, I'd probably choose the book over the film by just a little bit. But both are worthy experiences. I give Room an A-, and I hope it does indeed do well in the Oscar hunt.

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