- Room (2015) movie review: In spite of its numerous and considerable qualities, Lenny Abrahamson’s drama starring Brie Larson is a less-than-pleasant experience.
- Room earned Brie Larson the Best Actress Academy Award. It was shortlisted in three other categories: Best Film, Director, and Adapted Screenplay (Emma Donoghue).
Room movie review: Lenny Abrahamson’s psychological thriller is tough watching despite Brie Larson’s solid work
Directed by Irishman Lenny Abrahamson and adapted by Emma Donoghue from her 2010 novel, the movie Room has been the talk of Hollywood since well before it was actually made.
Distributor A24 – fast becoming the Miramax of its generation – acquired the film rights at Cannes prior to production. Since Room’s Telluride premiere, critical praise has been overwhelmingly positive.
And I appreciate it too. I just didn’t like it.
Mostly, this psychological thriller made me uncomfortable, something that, one supposes, is how we know it’s working. Even the contemplation of such a circumstance – a young woman being abducted, held captive, and raped repeatedly for years – is a mind-boggler that requires significant credulity.
Except that it actually happened.
Fictional vs. real-life abduction
To be clear, the story that you’re probably thinking of right now – about the young woman kidnapped by the neighborhood sociopath – is not the one portrayed in this adaptation of Donoghue’s novel.
Instead, that’s the case of 21-year-old single mother Michelle Knight, who was abducted by a Cleveland man named Ariel Castro in August 2002. In the ensuing two years, Castro would seize two other victims, Amanda Berry and Georgina “Gina” DeJesus; the former would give birth to a daughter during her years in captivity.
Knight’s story – the subject of the 2015 TV movie Cleveland Abduction, starring Taryn Manning – or Berry’s or DeJesus’ is not Room’s story. Even so, the factual ones do imbue Abrahamson and Donoghue’s film with a sense of plausibility that it might not have were it not for our knowledge of those real world events.
Which is to say this could happen – because it did.
Perseverance & escape
Room depends both on a believable circumstance (which we’ve established) and the performances of its leads, Brie Larson as Ma and five-year-old Jacob Tremblay as her son Jack.
Jack was born in captivity and has never known anything but the “room,” the things in it, and the occasional presence of Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), the man who had kidnapped Ma seven years earlier – she was then 17 years old – locking her away in a soundproof room with a metal door and a coded lock.
The reason that the real world story of the Cleveland abductees is so poignant is the heroic perseverance of the young women involved and because of Amanda Berry’s daring escape with her daughter. Suffice to say the same is true of this similar tale.
Indeed, much of the narrative is concerned with what happens after Ma and Jack’s dramatic escape, all of which is cleverly conceived and executed with gut-wrenching intensity. Yet it comes fairly early on in the film, which should come as no surprise because Room is not a prison escape thriller wherein the escaping is the point. It’s necessary – but it’s not the point.
Motherhood over victimhood
Now, when it comes to the acting, both Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are very good.
Larson’s character is a victim who has not settled into victimhood. As we enter the story, Ma has long since set any rightful sense of victimhood aside to become mother first; she’s the protector of her son, for whom she has built a world where their circumstance is simply the circumstance of the whole universe.
Jack knows one thing for sure: Ma will always be there.
Appreciation without contentment
In sum: Couched in reality and replete with quality performances – including Joan Allen, William H. Macy, and several other supporting players – Room is a well-made, topical film that succeeds by all measures.
I do appreciate it greatly.
But I still don’t like it.
Director: Lenny Abrahamson.
Screenplay: Emma Donoghue.
From her 2010 novel.
Cast: Brie Larson. Jacob Tremblay. Sean Bridgers. Joan Allen. William H. Macy. Matt Gordon. Wendy Crewson. Randal Edwards. Cas Anvar.
“Room (2015) Movie Review” endnotes
Brie Larson Room movie image: A24.
“Room Movie (2015) Review: Unpleasantly Well-Made” last updated in January 2022.