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First Reviews: Brie Larson in Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room”

First Reviews: Brie Larson in Lenny Abrahamson's "Room"

Based on Emma Donoghue’s novel, “Room” follows Joy Newsome (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son Jack (newcomer Jacob Tremblay) as they’re held captive by kidnapper and rapist Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). After seven years in captivity, Joy, known as Ma to Jack, is itching to get out, and hatches a scheme to get both her and her son to safety. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (“Frank” and “What Richard Did”) and written by Donoghue herself, the film is mostly from the young Jack’s perspective as he navigates the cloistered world of the garden shed they’re resigned to, and then later, the larger world, but it captures a young boy’s forced coming of age as a result of a cruel, unfeeling world. But it’s Brie Larson as Ma that really stuns as she both embodies deep strength and stunning vulnerability, acting as both a protector of her young child and still a relatively young girl herself thrust into a horrifying situation. Though Larson is the MVP, supporting performances from Tremblay and Joan Allen as Larson’s mother are also great, plus Stephen Remnick’s score and Danny Cohen’s dark, yet warm cinematography stand out as well. “Room” opens on October 16th.

Reviews of “Room”

Erik Kohn, Indiewire

Equal parts disturbing thriller and coming-of-age adventure, Donoghue’s script remains remarkably faithful to her material. Narrated by the five-year-old Jack, “Room” begins with the character’s limited comprehension of his surroundings. His mother — whom he knows only as Ma — guides him through a daily routine, from exercises to meals, then beckons him into the closet after hours when she’s visited by her menacing captor, a bearded lunatic whom the pair dub Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). Though it’s clear that Old Nick rapes Jack’s mother, Abrahamson keeps the action in the closet, where Jack only hears the creaks of a bed. The encroaching sense of uneasiness about the scenario therefore emerges on two layers, as viewers both know more than Jack about his conundrum and remain trapped within his limited understanding.

Gregory Ellwood, HitFix

There have been some very public media spectacles over the past decade about abductees in similar situations.  Donoghue, who made slight changes to the story’s third act, plays with your expectations in how Jack and Ma react to their newfound freedom. Television news usually focuses on the horrific details of the captivity and ignore the adjust process. Both Donoghue and Abrahamson are much more interested in how these characters grow outside of Room and whether, as Ma notes, they can be happy again. The result is an emotional second half that often moves you with a single line during the most unexpected moments. Larson will deserve all the praise she gets for her work here. She’s especially good when Ma agrees to sit down for a major network interview that questions her motivations as a mother when she’s only agreed to talk to help pay their legal and medical bills. That being said, Tremblay is the real revelation. Abrahamson guides him to the finest performance by a young actor since Quvenzhané Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” He’s that good.

David Ehrlich, Time Out

But “Room” only blossoms into something special after it explodes into the vastness of the world beyond. Faithfully adapted from Emma Donoghue’s 2010 novel of the same name, the film reveals its layers when Joy is reunited with her stunned parents (Joan Allen and William H. Macy), who divorced in the wake of her abduction. Forced to resume her role as a daughter, Joy is powerless to reconcile the needle skip of returning to real life with the challenge of introducing her son to it, and Larson’s ability to articulate the excruciating limbo of being suspended between two generations is a thing to behold. Feral and maternal (often at the same time), she inextricably knots the petulance of being a child with the responsibility of raising one. If Abrahamson were as gifted with a camera as he was with his cast (he inspires subtlety even from the tiny Tremblay), “Room” could have been truly worthy of the astonishing performances that provide its foundation. As it stands, the film is still a heartrending exploration of the worlds that parents create with their kids, the devastation that arises when those mountains move, and the ineffable fulfillment that results from climbing the peaks together.

Justin Chang, Variety

As much as it may have lost in the translation from page to screen, “Room” has unmistakably gained something where its performances are concerned. Joan Allen is unsurprisingly excellent in the role of Jack’s deeply relieved yet emotionally shattered grandmother, while William H. Macy makes the most of his scenes as a grandfather who can’t quite bring himself to accept his daughter’s homecoming. Tremblay, a major find, doesn’t strike a false note as a soulful, spirited child who has been so thoroughly deprived of life’s traditional necessities and pleasures that he doesn’t even want them when they finally arrive. Given the script’s built-in limitations, the actor does a remarkable job of capturing the boy’s ever-shifting thought processes, the way frustration and bewilderment can suddenly gate way to an unexpected epiphany. But it’s Jack’s relationship with his Ma that gives both incarnations of “Room” their force of feeling, and on these terms the movie is entirely successful. Larson drew well-deserved praise for her breakout performance as a counselor for troubled teens in “Short Term 12,” and the demands of that role, with its balance of tenderness and tough love, were in some ways an ideal warm-up for the startling display of mama-lion intensity she unleashes here. Her inner radiance undimmed by seven years’ worth of accumulated grime, exhaustion and defeat, Larson sometimes beams at her child with incongruous delight, and at other times gives full voice to the anger and impatience that a mother can feel toward her offspring even when they haven’t been forced to breathe the same foul air for five years. Even at its most forceful and despairing, her rage never feels like an expression of anything less than a mother’s love.

Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

The eventual emotional transformations are low-key rather than cathartic, and the film overall provides more in the line of minor insights than it puts the viewer through the wringer on anything resembling the level of what the characters endure. Overall, it’s a decent shot at a tall target, but real credit is due the lead actors, with Larson expanding beyond the already considerable range she’s previously shown with an exceedingly dimensional performance in a role that calls for running the gamut, and Tremblay always convincing without ever becoming cloying.

Nigel M. Smith, The Guardian

There’s no way around it: on paper, the subject material is grim and unforgiving. But seen through’s Jack’s eyes, their shared everyday existence is oddly whimsical and intimate. After all, it’s all he knows. That factor is what made Donoghue’s novel a pleasure not a chore. But on film, the overall effect can be cloying, largely thanks to a superfluous voiceover, as well as an overwrought score that’s more annoying than affecting. Abrahamson also unwisely cheats the child’s perspective to allow more breathing room for Larson’s character and their captor, Old Nick. In doing so, he removes the wonder and dread that made Donoghue’s story so compelling and unique. He exhibits more confidence behind the lens in Room’s second, more involving, act, when the action shifts to outside the shack that Joy and Jack call home. Jack’s inability to connect with his new environment is devastatingly rendered, aided tremendously by Tremblay’s remarkably credible performance, and Larson’s palpable pain. Joan Allen and William H Macy lend stellar support as Larson’s bereaved parents. If anything, “Room” proves Abrahamson as a master actor’s director. The overall vision, however, is muddled.

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