The Film: Room
The Pitch: Basically it’s “A Whole New World” from Aladdin, but way, way, way darker
Number of Nominations: Four
Which Categories? Best Picture. Best Director. Best Adapted Screenplay. Best Actress.
Will it Win? Is there an Oscar for Most Devastating Movie of the Year?
A young woman who has been held in captivity in a small shed for seven years tries to make as normal a life as she can for her five-year-old son, Jack, who knows her only as “Ma.” When Ma and Jack escape their captor, Old Nick, they must cope with the outside world and forge relationships with Ma’s conflicted family
That Room has scored a Best Picture nomination is a remarkable feat. Critics loved it, as did audiences, but it was not what you would call a box-office smash (it is the lowest-grossing movie ever to be nominated for Best Picture). It is highly unlikely to win: The Big Short is the current front-runner.
Brie Larson is almost certain to win Best Actress, and deservedly so for a stark, brutal, funny, compelling portrait of Joy, a woman who has spent seven years locked in a garden shed and repeatedly raped by her captor, and for five of those years has raised a son, Jack (newcomer Jacob Tremblay, remarkable), creating a whole world out of “Room”, and who struggles with freedom just as Jack struggles to learn that there is a real world outside of Room.
Emma Donoghue has taken her supposedly unfilmable novel and fashioned a screenplay that is by turns tense, funny, sad, tender, and really quite raw. She probably deserves the Oscar for it, but it’s looking highly likely that The Big Short will take the prize.
Director Lenny Abrahamson has never made an uninteresting film, and following What Richard Did and Frank continues to surprise and amaze filmgoers with yet another quiet, intimate movie that deals with some very dark topics. He won’t win, however – this is looking to be Innaritu’s year yet again.
Unlike some of the other films nominated this year, Room is not epic in scope. nor does it glory in widescreen vistas. It does have a couple of “big” moments but they don’t feel big – oddly, they feel intimate. That may be because much of the film’s point of view is Jack’s. He knows every inch of Room; the world outside is different, of course, and very frightening.
The first half of the film takes place entirely in one tiny room, and the film does a very good job of both conveying its claustrophobia and of showing how Joy makes one little room an everywhere, to borrow Donne’s words. So we have huge close-ups of objects and furniture, and repeated shots of the blue sky through a single skylight.
The film’s second half focuses on Joy’s tense reunion with her family (Joan Allen and William H. Macy play her parents, Nancy and Robert, and Tom McCamus is her mother’s boyfriend, Leo). And how clever on the part of the filmmakers that Nancy and Leo live in a split-level suburban home, with many stairs for Jack to negotiate (as with much in the world, he has never seen a staircase), and bannisters that resemble the bars of a jail cell.
Room‘s greatest strength is its restraint. The plot lends itself to melodrama, but the script and cast ensure that there are very few operatic or grandiose moments. The inevitable scenes of confrontation with Joy’s parents carry huge weight but are very wisely simply filmed (Abrahamson knows when you have actors as good as this with material as good as this, the smart thing to is get out of the way and keep the camera still).
Even the scenes of abuse with Joy’s captor, Old Nick (Sean Bridgers, very good, very intimidating in a dull, ordinary way) are filmed in such a way (again, mostly from Jack’s perspective) that if you didn’t know any better, you might just think that Old Nick and Joy are a bickering married couple.
Room is at times not an easy film to watch. But it deserves to be seen, and is without reservation one of the best films of 2015.
Verdict: Four and a Half Birthday Cakes out of Five