This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Johann Rucker’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Two books that I was hugely underwhelmed by received feature-film adaptations this year: Andy Weir's The Martian and Emma Donoghue's Room. The prose in the novels were overly-stylized in a manner that doesn't reward readers, one being written in the form journals by Sheldon-lite from an aborted Big Bang Theory script and the other written in a sort-of toddler pidgin and from the point of view of a five year old. Neither ever explores their respective premises fully and is further hindered by their taste for style over substance.
The trajectory of Room is simple and apparent, the characters are familiar, and the goods and bads are clearly realized for a linear viewing experience. Why then, was Room one of the most effective times at the movies I've had in a minute? Interactions. The magic of Room lies in the interactions between the characters with each other and with the world. It feels like Gone Girl, where you have readily familiar archetypes and stories, but the success lies in when these aspects meet in unique and interesting ways.
You get the feeling that Brie Larson's Ma really kinda hates Jack, but you also get the feeling that these emotions aren't ever malicious or overly nefarious. It feels like a uniting theme of motherhood, explored through the lens of codependency and maternal distress. There's also a serious commentary on the nature of the mass media, that feels lifted almost directly from Gone Girl. Nothing wrong with that, it totally works and carries this lukewarm third-act into the realm of believability.
Both primary performances are awards-worthy, despite both feeling completely disparate from what we're used to in awards performances. Brie Larson looks roguish and vulnerable onscreen and Jacob Tremblay maintains a manic energy until the film's end, their various intersections are always naturalistic and make the film. Everything in Room feels dirty and worn-in and it is shot beautifully, but lacks a lot of what makes Lenny Abrahamson interesting as a director. He comes second to the performances.