“When I was small, I only knew small things. But now I’m five, I know everything!”
For the last five or six years, I’ve made a point of watching all of the Academy Awards Best Picture nominees before the Oscar ceremony. This year I was way ahead of schedule. By the time they were announced, there was only one of the nominated eight that I hadn’t seen yet. And, to be honest, it was one I had kind of avoided. Because I could have seen this movie before now, I’d just consciously decided not to. But now, according to my own rules, I have to. So, is the Academy right and I’m wrong, is it a good thing that they nominated, and I just watched Room?
Seven years ago, 17 year old Joy (Brie Larson) was snatched off the street by a man she comes to call Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). Kept prisoner in his fortified garden shed in the middle of suburbia, Joy gave birth to a son two years in. With Jack (Jacob Tremblay) turning five, Joy decides it’s time to start telling him about what life and the real world are actually like outside of the one, small room that has been his entire world his entire life.
What initially seems like a form of torture, telling Jack about everything he’s missed out on so far, turns into Joy’s ultimate bid for freedom. With Jack now old enough to comprehend these complex concepts of life outside “room”, Joy uses him as the key to their escape. But once her plan is a success, Joy realises that escape is only the beginning to saving her son from the atrocities committed by Old Nick.
Now, before you get angry about that synopsis spoiling this move in any way, I didn’t say anything that director Lenny Abarahamson hasn’t already said in interviews. Room isn’t about these two tragic figures trying to escape to salvage their lives. It’s about trying to figure out how to salvage those lives after that escape.
Now that I’ve seen it, I’m really struggling to remember why I actively avoided Room for so long. The only other Abrahamson movie I’ve seen was Frank, and while I found it kind of on the nose and showy, I enjoyed more than I didn’t. I thought the Brie Larson was one of the best things about Trainwreck, but also associate her more immediately with Short Term 12, which was the worst kind of indie, issue movie pandering. And I think I dragged that Short Term 12 baggage into Room, without actually seeing it.
And that was a mistake. Because now that its Oscar nomination forced me to watch this movie, I’ve just seen one of the best movies of 2015. While the story is pretty sensational and melodramatic, it’s the little moments that make it really work. Like Jack’s first exposure to the real world being obscured by darkness and rain. Even once outside the room, he still can’t see any wide open spaces. Or five year old Jack being confused by the concept of stairs. It’s the tiny things that make the make the big, broad story so real an effective.
It’s also impossible to write about Room without mentioning Jacob Tremblay as Jack. I had to keep reminding myself that this was an actor, playing a part. How do you direct a kid this young to portray this character in such a believable, sad way? The screenplay also deserves a lot of the credit for that. It’s been a long time since I was a five year old. And even then, I had the advantage of not spending my entire, short life to that point locked in one, small room. But I felt like Jack’s reactions to his world, small and large, felt so authentic to how a five year old would figure out this new freedom.
I don’t think Room is necessarily the absolute best movie of 2015, but I’m glad it’s received this attention from the Academy. It’s a small movie or that needs this kind of spotlight so more people see it. And it’s a small kind of movie that doesn’t often get Oscar attention at all.