The American movie industry is full swing into awards season, and one of the most interesting things to watch is what “small” films will break through and get nominations for their scripts, or their actors, or even (and this is the big brass ring) for their overall quality—a Best Picture nomination. The pay-off can be enormous; in 2010 a little picture starring an unknown actress accomplished all three of those feats. The picture? Winter’s Bone. The actress? Jennifer Lawrence.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Room, one of my favorite pictures of the year, pull off the same trifecta and rocket its relatively unknown actress, Brie Larson, to stardom, too. Room is the heart-rending story of a single mother (called simply “Ma” in the picture and played by Larson) in her early twenties and her five-year old son, Jack, portrayed by a first-time child actor named Jason Tremblay. As the movie opens we find Jack waking up and going around to each element in the room—a chair, a table, a sink—naming it, and telling it good morning. His mother sleeps quietly in a bed in the corner. The room appears to be a dirty, poor one-room trailer or something like one. In fact it is a prison. Soon we learn the mother and child are locked in a garden shed behind the house of a man who kidnapped Ma seven years ago and impregnated her two years later. Their progeny is Jack.

Room is heart-rending, but it may be the most searingly thought-provoking movie of the year, too. Never titillating, the viewer lives with Ma and Jack in a constant merry-go-round of fear, boredom, despair and loathing. The dialogue between the two is never off-point, and helps construct a relationship that tenderly saves the two of them, as they try simply to exist. Jack of course has known very little of life, but the small rabbit-ears television their captor has allowed them to have introduces him to the world outside. Only to protect him, Ma has convinced him that the world outside is a fiction and that the only real world is inside Room. When the opportunity to escape presents itself, this strategy proves problematic for both Ma and Jack.

I can’t say more about the movie’s plot without giving away far too much. The themes in this film abound, most of them circling around the relationships we find ourselves in, when we are part of a family. The importance and yet the limits of fantasy for a child are woven into the story along with questions of celebrity, normalcy, expectations, recovery and a thousand other human themes. Each idea is treated with respect, with a reality that is unquestionable and in a story that is as engrossing as any I have seen in a long time. By the way, anyone fearing the movie has violent sex scenes or other elements difficult for the squeamish, should dismiss those concerns. Yes, it is a difficult movie, but nothing about it is untoward.

Room had a lot of strikes against it. Not only were almost all the actors unknowns (Joan Allen and William H. Macy play Ma’s parents in relatively small roles), but the director is the little known Irish director Lenny Abrahamson. Add to that the script-writer, Emma Donoghue (also Irish), adapted her own novel, a sin in Hollywood that almost never results in a crisp screenplay. But Larson is phenomenally able to disappear into the role of Ma, Abrahamson, though passionate about the material, directs with a sure hand, and Donoghue never misses in her dialogue, pacing and clarity. Perhaps the biggest contributor to the movie’s success is the young Tremblay, who gives one of the great child performances of all time, every bit as good as that of Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense. At one or two sensitive points in the story, he is called upon to be extraordinarily courageous, and he never misses his mark.

Winter’s Bone actually garnered four Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay and also Best Supporting Actor for the superb John Hawkes. Room won’t win, though it perhaps should, for Best Picture, but Larson is being talked about very favorably for Best Actress. It would be wonderful if Room also garnered a nomination for Tremblay for Best Supporting Actor. It’s a packed field this year, but stranger things have happened.

Do not miss this picture. There are a lot of great movies out there this year, but none better than Room.

Drew Trotter

November 19, 2015

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