I liked Frank, director Lenny Abrahamson's 2014 indie dramedy about a quirky experimental band, with Michael Fassbender in a giant papier mache head as the lead singer with serious mental health issues. After my white Portland friends sang its praises, I dismissed it as yet another one of those hipster indies I dub Whining Caucasian Movies, but Frank's subversive, brutally honest, and genre-bending nature instantly won me over when I finally decided to give it a shot. That being said, nothing in that film could have prepared me for the emotional and visceral gut punch that is Room, Abrahamson's follow-up to Frank.
Based on a best-selling novel by Emma Donoghue, who also adapted her own material for the screen, Room is about Jack (Jacob Tremblay), a loving, energetic, and imaginative 5-year-old boy who spent his entire life imprisoned in a ten-feet-by-ten-feet room with her mother (Brie Larson). The mother is named only as Ma, which is just one of the many admirable examples of the film's dedication to telling this equally traumatizing and life-affirming story strictly from Jack's point-of-view.
In order to raise Jack in this horrific environment with any semblance of normalcy, Ma makes him believe that the room is the only place that exists in the world, and that all the people and places he sees on TV are in a different galaxy. As a stay at home dad who constantly struggles to keep a toddler stimulated, nourished, and motivated with all of the indoor space, toys, tech, parks at my fingertips, I felt an intense sadness as well as respect for Ma's dedication to raise a child in such an impossibly harsh condition.
Jack's mind is full of made-up worlds inhabited by his imaginary pets, concocted as a means of escaping the harshness of his reality, which gradually begins to reveal itself through Jack's experiences with the room. I won't reveal how Ma and Jack ended up there, or the sacrifices Ma has to make on a daily basis in order to keep Jack safe, because in order to truly appreciate the genius of Abrahamson's intensely focused visual approach is to let the way he reveals vital story elements from Jack's perspective captivate you with as little information as possible.
All of the information we get about Ma and Jack's predicament builds up to one of the most pulse-pounding, nail-biting, any other review buzzword cliché generating sequences I've seen in a long time. I will try my hardest not to spoil that scene, as well as what happens during its aftermath. This is a very hard thing to do, since not only do the trailers reveal the outcome of this vital plot point, even reading the logline on the IMDB page will spoil it.
I usually embed a trailer for the film at the bottom of my reviews. I won't do so here, with the faint hope that my review will be the only information you seek out before walking into the theatre. All I can say is that even though the thriller elements are laid to rest about halfway through Room, there's still a tremendously engaging emotional journey ahead, where Abrahamson smartly avoids every trap for conventional melodramatics the basic story elements lay out for him.
The performances from everyone involved are extraordinary, especially for a story that's ripe for possible overacting and hysterical dramatics. After Short Term 12 and Room, Brie Larson shows that she's one of the most talented and versatile actresses of her generation. The entire emotional weight of Room was hoisted on the tiny shoulders of 8-year-old Jacob Tremblay, and he carries it with an exceptional display of natural empathy and energy. I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up as the youngest Best Actor winner in The Academy's history.