The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

Follow Us On:



Be It Ever So Humble

 118 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson 
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay

The struggle of people trying to live in isolation has been a popular dramatic subject since the days of Robinson Crusoe. Generally, however, these stories involve individuals stranded in some remote location, far from their fellow man. The new drama, Room, however, delivers a powerful variant on that theme. Joy Newsome (Brie Larson) is trying to raise her five-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) apart from physical contact with virtually the entire world. However, Joy and Jack aren’t on some remote island or in jungle hideaway. Instead, they’re locked in a garden shed in the backyard of a typical suburban American home.


Room is based on a novel by Emma Donoghue, but she based the book (and her screenplay) on several real life abductions in which women were held captive and physically and sexually abused for years by various men. In this movie, Joy was abducted as a teenager by a socially awkward man she calls Old Nick (Sean Bridger), who locked her in the aforementioned shed in his backyard. He furnished the shed with a bed, minimal kitchen supplies, a bathtub, and a toilet, but little else, and forced himself on her in exchange for food and some other supplies. As a result of these encounters, Joy gave birth to Jack, who is five years old at the time of the movie.


Jack’s world is a combination of myths and half-truths told by Joy, distorted television images, a handful of children’s books, and the view out the skylight in their room. Despite the conditions in which they find themselves, Joy is determined to make a good home for Jack and educate, entertain, and care for him. The first half of Room goes into great detail showing the efforts Joy makes to live a normal life with Jack, such as turning egg shells into room decorations. But it also shows the disruption caused by Old Nick, whose visits result in Jack being put away in a clothes wardrobe so he won’t see what is mother and Jack are doing.


Finally, Joy does figure out a way to escape, by faking Jack’s death and convincing Nick to take the boy away to “dispose” of the body. Jack does get loose, in the most suspenseful scene in the film, and manages to get the attention of a passerby who summons the police before Nick can spirit the boy away again. Then, some pretty shrewd police work allows them, based on Jack’s description of his trip, to trace the movements of Nick’s truck back to his house.


Once Joy and Jack are free, which occurs about halfway through the movie, the film shifts its focus to showing the difficulty the two of them have in adjusting to the outside world. Part of that is due to mere sensory overload, since Jack has trouble processing the outside world, and even Joy has difficulty coping. Part of the problem is the interest of the public in the sensational aspects of Joy’s story, culminating in granting an interview with an interviewer (Wendy Crewson) who probes a bit too deeply. And part is reconnecting with Joy’s parents, whose own marriage was torn apart after the disappearance. Dad (William H. Macy) moved out of state, and Mom (Joan Allen) remarried, but still doesn’t fully comprehend what happened.


The primary focus of Room is on exploring the bond between mother and son. Joy’s natural maternal instincts are sharpened by her isolation from the outside world and her guilt over allowing herself to be taken prisoner (Nick uses the old “lost puppy” ruse to get her to go off with him initially).  After they are free, they still cling to each other, and when they do wind up being separated, Jack does not take the abandonment well, despite the efforts of his grandmother and her husband to cheer him up.


The acting in Room is uniformly excellent. Brie Larson has made a name for herself in independent fare such as last year’s acclaimed but little seen Short Term 12, but this appearance, along with her co-starring role in this summer’s popular comedy Trainwreck, should definitely put her in the mainstream. She delivers a raw, powerful performance, exposing herself emotionally as a woman who struggles to keep a bright outlook for her son while battling understandable anger and depression. Once she is rescued and no longer needs to keep up her guard, the emotional cracks begin to show.


Director Lenny Abrahamson does a great job with his supporting cast as well, especially young Tremblay, who was eight years old when his scenes were filmed. His scenes and emotions seem quite natural and not mugging for the camera, as young actors often do. Joan Allen has been around a lot longer, of course, but this is her best role in years as well, a mother who wants to be supportive but can’t quite grasp what her daughter is going through.


The only weakness in the film is the decision to frame the entire movie from Jack’s point of view. This works quite well in the beginning of the movie, when viewers get to witness him huddled at the bottom of the wardrobe, hearing but not understanding the sounds of sex outside the door. And, when he does fake his death and eventually escapes, viewers feel the same disorientation, which helps build suspense. That scene is as tense as any thriller in recent memory. However, when Jack and Joy are rescued, the family dynamic becomes quite complicated, and Jack, and consequently, the audience, can only witness a small part of it. Although, the scenes are uniformly well done, the film isn’t as powerful as it could have been if we had been privy to all of Joy’s troubles.


Because of its subject matter, Room was likely to be a compelling movie to watch no matter what treatment was given the material. However, Abrahamson and screenwriter Donoghue eschewed the luridly sensationalistic and instead found something far more moving. Room is a testament to love, endurance, and the human spirit. Buoyed by a remarkable lead performance, Room proves that big movies can emerge from the smallest of places.

Read other reviews of  Room:


Room (2015) on IMDb