A24 118 minutes R
Can a movie about a mother and child held captive in one room for years be uplifting? Not an easy task. Yes, this film depicts a very depressing situation. It’s based on the book by Irish-Canadian author, Emma Donoghue who also wrote the screenplay. She says she wrote it after reading about the Fritzl case in Austria where a father kept his daughter captive for 24 years and impregnated her 7 times. But she says that incident only sparked her imagination for this story. But this one is not the same.
Brie Larson, whose work in Short Term 12 we found remarkable, gives another such performance playing the mother of Jack, who was born in captivity. That’s right. She was kidnapped on her way home from school and held by a stranger for years in a shed with no windows. He provided only the bare necessities and she became his sex slave. She kept her son, now 5, in a cupboard anytime “Old Nick,” played by Sean Bridgers (The Best of Me, Sweet Home Alabama) came around. The story is told from the boy’s perspective.
Jacob Tremblay is an astonishing little actor. Larson says that she and Jacob truly bonded working together on this film. Their mother and son relationship is natural, nurturing and heartbreaking, all at the same time.
Larson says he’s her best friend. They rode to and from the set together every day and drew the pictures and projects themselves you see in the very detailed room. They made toys out of trash and Jake actually does like playing with Legos on and off the set.
She says he was actually very shy shooting the first scene where they had to yell at each other over cake. Larson says she had everybody scream on set to get him into it. He does a good job throwing a tantrum over that homemade pastry.
Author Donoghue says she watched her own 5-year-old son while writing her novel. She noted his giving names to everything and assigning his toys and things with a specific gender.
Dublin Born Director, Lenny Abrahmson, created a unique set. He explains that it was built to have sections break away, but they never took out a whole wall.They wanted the actors to always always feel confined. And the cameras stayed inside that space.
It’s also interesting to note that more than half the film takes place outside the Room where Jack finally got to see “the world” he had only imagined. The film isn’t only about their captivity. That’s where you get to see the strong mother/son relationship. But even more, it’s about what happens when they do get out and how they handle it.
Tremblay says his favorite scenes were when he got his hair cut and didn’t have to wear the wig anymore. He also loved doing his own stunts. He says it made him feel like Tom Cruise! We literally held our breath with heart racing hoping he’d make his escape! You really feel for this kid.
Tremblay’s reactions, in the movie, to what we all consider normal situations, like taking a shower (“Taking a shower is splashier!”), jumping on furniture, having a neighborhood friend, and having more family, are touching.
Larson shows how awkward her relationship becomes after they’re free. She no longer has complete control of her son and her situation. It’s never more apparent as when she is interviewed by a “gotcha” journalist played by Wendy Crewson (Air Force 1, The Vow). We seen reporters like this in TV newsrooms we’ve worked in.
Joan Allen and William H. Macy play Larson’s divorced parents, Nancy and Robert. Good guy Step Dad is Tom McCamus. Trying to bring the family back together is challenging. Amanda Brugel as Officer Parker does a convincing job as a compassionate cop trying to help this kid. She’s the kind of police type we all wish we had when we need them most.
Is this worth your bucks. The acting performances are spot on. Brie Larson, at 26, continues to develop her acting chops in yet another challenging role. There are a lot of closeups where you can see past her face and into her brain to tell what she’s processing. The young Tremblay has some very tough scenes he handles like a pro. He has an adorable sweet face, but he’s not saccharin sweet. Seeing how this mother and son manage in a small space to create a life of their own locked us into the story as tightly as they were locked into the Room.