TIFF 2015: Room
A tug of war between great drama and schmaltzy pap, Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel Room comes perilously close to collapsing into a laughably maudlin film at times. Spending its first half entirely in the titular room (in actuality a shed), Ma (Brie Larson) and her 5-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) are being held hostage by a man they call Old Nick (Sean Bridgers); Old Nick kidnapped Ma seven years ago and has been using her as his sex slave this entire time. Jack, unaware that Old Nick is his dad (kidnapped for seven years with a five-year-old son, you do the math), has no concept of the outside world, having lived his entire life in his mother’s prison. Eventually Ma, thinking Jack is old enough to face the truth about their situation, starts devising an escape plan.
Note: minor spoilers follow
Room thankfully doesn’t stay in its one location the entire time, instead dealing with the struggles of Ma and Jack once they escape captivity. Larson, Tremblay and Joan Allen (playing Larson’s mother) all do terrific work; Larson excels at going from tough and resilient to psychologically shattered, Tremblay is absolutely convincing as a child facing the world for the first time, and Allen is remarkable as she tries to deal with both her daughter’s return and becoming a grandmother. But every time Room’s cast comes together to create a great moment Abrahamson, who directed the insufferably quirky Frank last year, finds another moment to screw things up. Twee sequences where Jack narrates things from his perspective make the film suddenly turn into “The Littlest Hostage,” and the final sequence is laughably bad, with a scene that feels like watching a PTSD version of Goodnight Moon. It’s an uneven picture that could have been much better, and that makes Room all the more frustrating.