Upon finishing Emma Donoghue’s gripping novel Room five years ago, more than a few readers probably mumbled to themselves, “I don’t know how that would ever be made into a movie.”
Narrated exclusively from the point of view of 5-year-old Jack, Room traffics in singularly unpleasant subject matter, but, incredibly, finds hope in the most dire circumstances.
Without giving away too much of Donoghue’s spare, bleak plot, Room unfolds as the tale of Ma and Jack, trapped in a one-room shed by a captor who stole Ma off the street seven years before.
Their day-to-day existence is fraught with dread, but also the whimsy of a child discovering the world through Ma’s fantastical explanations of their surroundings.
It’s tricky stuff all the way around, but the cinematic version of Room, adapted for the screen by Donoghue and directed by Lenny Abrahamson, manages the impressive feat of translating this singular novel to film and sacrificing none of its peculiar power and tough beauty.
Room is helped immeasurably by its two lead actors, Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay.
As Ma, Larson is forced through tortuous emotional and psychological experiences, while Tremblay is charged with handling a complex role, a child driven by circumstance to be both wise beyond his years but also alive to the wonder of a world he doesn’t fully understand.
Together, they form a powerfully affecting family unit, and one that carries viewers through some of Room’s uglier moments — the cinematic version doesn’t become quite as harrowing as the novel, but Donoghue’s adaptation doesn’t spare viewers either — and gives the film a potent dose of pathos as the tale draws to a close.
Effectively a duet between Tremblay and Larson, Room also benefits from strong supporting work, courtesy Joan Allen, William H. Macy and Sean Bridgers. Particularly in the film’s second half, Allen and Macy convey, in just a few brief moments, a lifetime of anguish and uncertainty.
Larson has excelled in largely little-seen roles to date, such as her turn in Short Term 12, and Room should elevate her profile.
But it’s Tremblay who impresses most: His performance is simply stunning.
Nuanced, alive and convincingly moving from sheltered, frightened and nervous to curious, eager and loving, Tremblay’s Jack, who, in the one concession to filmmaking, only provides sparing narration here, is a striking piece of acting, all the more astonishing given Room’s grim nature.
Abrahamson (Frank, What Richard Did) doesn’t force any unnecessary flourishes upon Room, and cinematographer Danny Cohen’s evocative images, culled from a restless camera often situated at Jack’s eye level, effectively convey the claustrophobia of Room.
Not unlike its main characters, Room itself beats the odds: It’s a deeply satisfying, profoundly moving adaptation of a popular novel, an all-too-rare occurrence in modern Hollywood.
Exclusive: Landmark Magnolia, Dallas; Angelika Plano
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Cast: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen
Rating: R (strong language)
Run time: 118 min.