Producer Ed Guiney, of Element Pictures, has had a, well, curious year. First, was the frank weirdness of The Lobster. Then came the awful and embarrassing 11 Minutes. And now, with Room, based on the book by Emma Donoghue, Guiney has produced one of the best films, not just of this year, but of any year.
Adapted by Donoghue and directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Frank, What Richard Did), Room is the story of well, a room. Inside that room lives five-year-old Jack and his mother, Ma (pronounced Maw), played by Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson, respectively. Ma hasn’t been outside the room for seven years; Jack hasn’t been outside his entire life. For Ma, she is a captive; for Jack, this is the only existence he has known. In fact, he rather likes ‘room.’
It’s through Jack’s eyes that the story unfolds, Room never moving away from the events he’s either involved in or witness to. The book is told in first-person by Jack, and so in translation from page to screen, it wouldn’t have been surprising if the film flitted between real world and fantasy or animation, trying to project the mind of a five-year-old boy. It doesn’t, not even for a moment, and it’s through this that Abrahamson shows off his skill, proving he’s the best Irish director around. By keeping us in the actuality of the situation, Abrahamson allows us to feel what the characters are feeling on a much more instinctive and honest level.
It’d also be tempting to be overtly cinematic in an effort to jazz up the room. While there are certain stylistic flares, the camerawork is there mainly to allow the actors space to breathe. If there’s one thing good storytellers know it’s that an engaging drama is more than sufficiently cinematic.
Of course, a film of this kind is reliant on its performances. Brie Larson (who picked up a Golden Globe this year) has never been accused of being a glamorous performer, so the make-up-less grim turn as Ma doesn’t have the gimmicky effect that, say, Charlize Theron in Monster did. Instead, Larson simply continues and builds upon the excellent work she did in Short Term 12, delivering a layered, understated and unselfish performance. Larson wonderfully captures the sense of a girl who grew up far too fast and is now frozen somewhere in between her actual age and the age she has had to become.
With a performance as well crafted as Larson’s, it’s further surprising that Jacob Tremblay, as five-year-old Jack, manages to steal the show. A compliment often attached to child actors (Haley Joel Osment in the Sixth Sense, Chloe Moretz in Kick-Ass) is how adult they are, how mature they are. What’s refreshing about Tremblay’s performance is that it allows him be a child. He is innocent and confused, throwing tantrums and giving big unabashed hugs.
Room is rough going but rewarding. When watching Room, your heart will be wrenched, broken, in your throat, warmed, and melted, all several times over.
Although only January, Room has set the bar for best film of the year.
If you’ve got room for more from Rían, head on over to his Twitter.