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Movie Review | Room

Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and Ma (Brie Larson) keep themselves occupied in Room

Movie summary: Held captive for 7 years in an enclosed space, a woman and her young son finally gain their freedom, allowing the boy to experience the outside world for the first time. (IMDb)

At the time of writing this, I've just finished watching Room and am definitely struggling with what to make of it, thanks to its rather strange second half. The outline in the summary above lets you know that the movie is split between the room in which Ma (Brie Larson) and Jack (Jacob Tremblay) are imprisoned, and the outside world after they manage to gain their freedom, but what comes before and after that split is very different.

It's a pretty even split too, with about an hour in the room and an hour dealing with adapting to the outside world, but that first hour is much stronger and Room arguably peaks right in the middle after the pair's escape. There's a clear through-line to all of the events, with a distinct goal and direction that the second half of the movie is lacking.

It's not just that though, but also the fact that the second half feels very cliched at times, hitting all the expected beats and character reactions you'd expect. Larson definitely suffers the worst from having a very predictable series of events to work through; she's skilled enough to let you empathise with Ma, but her story just doesn't stay interesting.

Fortunately, Tremblay is a ludicrously-talented young actor who proves more than capable of carrying the movie on his small shoulders. Despite certain elements being just as predictable, Tremblay manages to keep Jack interesting to watch with his innate curiosity and simple desire to live making you want to keep watching him. Plus, he doesn't disappear from the story for any stretch of time, which always helps.

I don't think this is a case of 'adults' (we learn Ma was kidnapped at 17, so her outside world life experience is a relatively stunted) being more complicated and having greater issues to deal with than a child, who could understandably be more adaptable with no other frame of reference than life in the room. Ma's arc is just too predictable, and her off-screen development really damaged my connection with her as a character.

It's a shame, because the first half of Room works so, so well, with Larson and Tremblay working amazingly well with each other. It certainly helps that their confinement automatically lends a sense of tension to absolutely everything, including some unsettling scenes when Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) visits Ma - I was very much reminded of The Florida Project on those occasions.

Ma (Brie Larson) struggles to adjust to the outside world in Room

First, we get to know the characters and see how their relationship works, then we get to see how intelligent and resourceful Ma is in plotting their escape. There's a constant dynamism and forward momentum to their actions that keeps you glued to the movie, precisely because you don't know what's going to happen next, but Larson and Tremblay are so good that you desperately want to find out.

It's really interesting to see how this pair manage to live in such a cramped space with only each other for company and comfort, although thinking about what Ma has had to go through after seven years of this imprisonment is deeply unsettling. We get hints and flashes of it peppered throughout, especially with how Larson communicates this so well, even if it is just a slight changes in body language or expression.

I would still definitely recommend Room though, if only for the incredible performances from Larson and Tremblay (although Joan Allen, William H. Macy and Tom McCamus are hardly slouching either, Allen proving especially good as Ma's mother). The first hour is genuinely brilliant and it's just a shame that the movie can't maintain that level of excellence.

Room is a very good, if slightly uneven movie that really felt weirdly-structured and oddly-paced in the second half, especially when Brie Larson's Ma leaves for a short time and undergoes substantial character growth off-screen. Larson is still great, giving possibly the best performance I've seen from her, but the true star of the show is Jacob Tremblay as Jack, who expertly carries the movie despite his very young age.


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