A touching parent-child drama about survival

Room is about the stories we tell one another to survive. Jack, a lively five-year-old boy, lives with his Ma in a single small room where he was born, utterly unaware of anything beyond the confines of the four walls he sees around him. Ma has created an entire imaginative world for Jack in this room, shielding him from the fact that they are both imprisoned there by Ma’s captor/rapist, Old Nick, who visits the room occasionally to bring provisions and to again force himself on Ma. Ma, or Joy in the rest of the world, is little more than a child herself, but her fierce devotion to Jack allows her to endure this confinement—and Old Nick.

Based on the 2010 bestselling novel by Emma Donoghue, Room takes the viewer into an intimate and loving parent-child dynamic built over a well of incredible pain and sacrifice. Brie Larson, who plays Ma/Joy, and Jacob Tremblay as young Jack, capture the shifting rhythms of family life, heightened by the severe limitations of their shared space.

When Old Nick’s financial circumstances erode, and Joy realizes that they are in even greater peril, they attempt a risky escape; and the story and scene shift to the world beyond Room. Although we are deeply invested in these characters, unfortunately the change in locale and the expansion of the story into the world we know as real, takes us viewers into far more familiar, and therefore less captivating, territory. Some of the energy and much of the specialness of this story dissipate, sadly.

Much credit, nonetheless, goes to Larson and Tremblay. Both excel in making their very small on-screen universe feel genuine and compelling. They are ably supported in smaller roles by Joan Allen, William H. Macy, and Tom McCamus as Joy’s reunited family. The direction by Lenny Abrahamson is briskly efficient without being particularly noteworthy. Donoghue, who also wrote the screenplay, can be excused for a somewhat meandering third act on the basis of the rest of the story, which is both engaging and profound.

Mark Fields
Mark Fields has reviewed films for Out & About since October 2008. In addition, he has written O&A profiles of documentarian Harry Shearer and actress Aubrey Plaza. Mark also has written on the movies for several publications in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and his home state of Indiana, where he also served as on-air movie critic for Indianapolis’s public radio station. Mark has been an adjunct instructor of film history at Rowan University since 1998. A career arts administrator, he is the executive director of Wilmington’s Grand Opera House and now lives on Market Street. Mark spent the fastest 22 minutes of his life as an unsuccessful contestant on Jeopardy…sadly, there were no movie questions.