The 88th Academy Awards will be handed out on Feb. 28, and this year eight films are in contention for the coveted Best Picture Oscar. Three of these movies — “The Revenant,” “Spotlight,” and “Room” — are playing at our local theaters, and this week we’re going to have a look at “Room,” a very different kind of movie that really took me by surprise.
Based upon Emma Donoghue’s novel of the same name, “Room” appropriately opens in a small, single room containing only a bed, a toilet, a bathtub, and a tiny kitchen. There are no windows, and the only source of natural light in the room is a small skylight in the ceiling. The inhabitants of this miserable hovel are a 5-year-old boy named Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and his mother, whom he calls simply “Ma” (Brie Larson)
This room is the only home Jack has ever known, but the same is not true for Ma. As the story evolves, we learn that Ma had been abducted seven years ago by a man she refers to as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). Since that time, he has kept her incarcerated in a shed behind his house so that he can rape her whenever the spirit moves him. Jack obviously is the result of one of these depraved sexual encounters.
Ma never tells Jack that Old Nick is his father, and when the pervert pays Ma one of his regular, periodic visits, she has Jack hide in a wardrobe until the man is gone. The two captives try to make the best of their situation by playing games and having conversations with each item in the room. But when Ma finds out that Old Nick may no longer have enough money to provide food for Jack and her, she decides it’s time to devise an escape plan turning the film into a taut thriller.
Once Ma implements her ingenious plot, you will be on the edge of your seat until you see what happens and how it ultimately changes of lives of Jack and Ma. Although I thought the film left some questions unsatisfactorily answered, it definitely is exceptional because it is so different and because Larson delivers a dynamite performance worthy of her Oscar nomination for best actress. The role of Ma is incredibly demanding both physically and emotionally, and Larson is definitely up to the task. In the film’s production notes, she discussed her character.
“I don’t think Ma ever expected to get out of Room. She knew that hope can be a trickster. But I think she always believed Jack would get out. When she made an escape plan for Jack, it was a selfless act. She had to believe Jack would make it, but I don’t think she ever considered that she might make it out, too, and have another chance at life and being a mother.”
To say that Larson really threw herself into the role is a gross understatement. She hired a personal trainer to whip her into shape to the point where her body fat dropped to just 12 percent.
“That physical process really put me in a certain mindset,” she said. “I felt more aggressive, more like a fighter, and at the same time I felt hungry and exhausted. It gave me a sense of what Ma must have felt like in her body after years in captivity with just barely enough food.”
But Larson didn’t stop with the physical aspect of Ma. She wanted to know what Ma must have endured emotionally, and to this end she practically shut herself off from society.
“I wanted to fully understand what it was like for Ma to be so, so long in Room. I think she’d have gone through waves — waves of panic, then waves of acceptance, but I think a lot of the time she was probably just bored by the routine and monotony. So to simulate that, I stayed at home for a month and only left to go to the gym. I had very little connection to the outside world, and I stayed out of the sun since Ma has not had sun on her skin in many years.”
Although there’s no doubt that Larson carries the film, she is backed by a fabulous supporting cast beginning with 10-year-old newcomer Tremblay, who is terrific as Jack. For as young as he is, Tremblay exhibits poise beyond his years in front of the camera, and his performance in this film should do much toward advancing his promising career.
Previous Academy award nominees Joan Allen and William H. Macy also are on hand in this film as Ma’s parents. As you would expect, their respective performances are flawless.
In addition to receiving nominations for best picture and best actress, “Room” also is up for Oscars in the categories of best director and best-adapted screenplay. Thus, the film has much to recommend it, and it’s one of those movies that haunt your brain long after you have seen it because what Ma endures will rip your heart out.
As I mentioned earlier, however, I thought the film left several important questions unsatisfactorily answered, but I won’t say what they are for fear of revealing too much. Nevertheless, “Room” is an exceptionally good and refreshingly different movie totally deserving of its Oscar nominations.
Spending time in that horrible Room with Ma and Jack is not something you will soon forget, and this excellent movie earns the final score of a rock-solid eight because there just was quite enough room for a 10.