Film review: Mother-son duet of love and hope in Room

Film review: Mother-son duet of love and hope in Room
Room stars Jacob Tremblay (left) and Brie Larson (right) as a mother and son who are held captive in a locked room-like shed.
PHOTO: Shaw Organisation

Run Time: 118 min
Classification: PG13
Genre: Drama
Grade: 4.5/5

The Golden Globes, held a few days ago on Jan 11, was in many ways, predictably sour (Ricky Gervais still seems to regard humour as a synonym for meanness), but it got a few things right - chief among which was Brie Larson's well-deserved Best Actress win for Room.

Based on the bestselling book by Emma Donoghue who adapted her novel for the screen, director Lenny Abrahamson's Room tells the harrowing tale of a young woman named Joy (Larson) who has been held captive for the past seven years by a man known as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) in a locked space measuring about nine sq m.

However, in the last five of those seven years, she has given birth to a son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), whose existence is clearly Joy's only reason for breathing, living and hoping for salvation.

The film, which is told through Jack's perspective, cleaves between Joy and Jack's time in said room, and their time outside. 

The key success of Room hinges on Donoghue's empathetic screenplay and its naturalism - from its intimate production that employed ingenious methods such as installing cameras under removable floorboards, to cinematographer Danny Cohen's ability to visually interpret claustrophobia.

The film never shies away from the more atypical aspects of the mother-son relationship, which includes Ma still breastfeeding five-year-old Jack, but never exploits them. 

That the film resonates as well as it does is due to its two lead performances and Abrahamson's sensitive direction. 

It is clear that Larson and Tremblay spent time cultivating a meaningful bond off-screen, because whenever they are onscreen, we see nothing less than a pure, authentic relationship that does not rely on cliche but on low-key realism, allowing the actors to plumb emotional depths in devastating ways.

Larson, on track to win a Best Actress Oscar, beating a very crowded and deserving list of contenders in the process, portrays Joy as a woman whose obvious youth belies her forced maturity brought about by her captivity.

This internal struggle comes into especial focus once Joy and Jack escape and are living with her mother (a fantastic Joan Allen), resulting in a compelling exploration of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Tremblay is likewise a revelation and equally deserving of awards contention, giving a layered, visceral performance of a child who discovers the existence of a much bigger world outside of the locked room he has lived in. His wide-eyed wonder and enchantment when he first sees daylight is both heartbreaking and joyful.

Indeed, it is these things that enable Room to transcend its subject matter to be a universal exploration of love, parenthood and family. 

Room opens in cinemas on Jan 14.

See also: Movies opening on Jan 14

See also: 5 things to know about Brie Larson

prabukm@sph.com.sg

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