Room is nominated for four of the big five Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. I don’t know that it will win any of them because of the flaws in the film. Brie Larson probably has the best chance of winning because her best scenes are during the better parts of the movie. Overall, I’m guessing this got its Best Picture nomination because of the subject matter, not because of the actual quality of the film compared to the other potential nominees.
And what is the subject matter? A woman and her five year old son are locked in a tool shed, kept captive by a man. Ma (Larson) has been there seven years, ever since she was kidnapped as a 17 year old. Her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) has only ever known the inside of the one room that he has lived in his entire life. The door has a combination code and the only window is a skylight.
Ma and Jack find ways to pass the time during the day and each night her kidnapper, known as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), comes in and has sex with her while Jack is supposed to be sleeping in the wardrobe.
The first half of the movie consists of scenes only within this one space. Then the second part of the film is outside the room. It is also a complete change in tone and style, too. It’s as if they shot two short films and just smushed them uneasily together. The first half is interesting, different, and sometimes quite tense. The second half is something you can see most any week on Lifetime.
In addition to Larson and Tremblay, the film has William H. Macy and Joan Allen as Ma’s parents. Unfortunately, both of their talents are wasted. Macy barely appears for five minutes and Allen isn’t given a whole lot to work with. The supporting character who actually does do the most with his limited screen time is Tom McManus as Allen’s character’s new husband or live in lover.
There was talk when the film came out about the 8-9 year old Tremblay possibly getting a Best Actor nomination. There was related talk about him maybe being shunted to Best Supporting Actor even though he becomes the central character at a certain point in the film. As it turns out, he received neither nomination. Personally, I thought he did a good job in some scenes, mostly the quiet ones where he had to actually act without speaking. Other times he was just a kid playing a kid – no acting needed. Finally, there were times when he was annoying as hell (not the actor’s fault). One of the weaknesses of some movies’ writing is when they have a small child in a major role and they feel they have to make the kid a brat in order to make him or her interesting. Emma Donoghue adapted the screenplay from her own book of the same name.
Director Lenny Abrahamson bizarrely chose to use heavy shakycam to film the three or four most important scenes in the film, rendering them essentially unwatchable. That greatly lessens their impact. Most other scenes have competent cinematography in them.
And I realize “it’s only a movie”, but one thing really bothered me. Ma has been kept captive in an above ground tool shed for seven years. It has thin walls that could be penetrated with various items in the room, a skylight that is easily reachable using the furniture in the room, and a door with only 10,000 combinations at a maximum to try to get it open. You could easily run through every combination in 2-3 days. I know if some psycho had me locked up and was coming each night to rape me that I’d sure as hell be punching buttons as fast as I could, as long as I could. And that’s not even figuring that each number has a unique tone that she has been hearing every single day for seven years. He’d have to be resetting the code every single day to prevent this – which still leaves the skylight and the walls as ways to get out. I guess what it comes down to is I expect more from a critically acclaimed, Oscar nominated movie. It shouldn’t have glaring errors in it like that.
Overall, Room has some parts that are quite good, but it also has parts that are quite pedestrian. It’s not among the better Best Picture nominees this year, but it is still worth your time to see, if only for the first half.
Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars