Room starts with a young boy's fifth birthday. He wakes up his mother, says hi to all of the inanimate objects around him, and gets excited about baking a birthday cake. His exhausted mom musters up the liveliness to instill this excitement of cake baking in him, and successfully fascinates her son with the process. It's a simple tradition, but the bond between mother and son is pleasantly moving.
Within minutes, Room becomes a far different kind of moving. Joy presents Jack with his cake, but it's lacking candles. Jack is vaguely aware that cakes are supposed to have candles: he screams in disappointment, tensions rise, tempers flare- and Jack and his mother end up in tears of frustration and forgiveness.
This was also the first of many, many moments that I found myself crying in a theater full of people. By the end of the film, I was unashamedly weeping.
If you don't know anything about Room's narrative, you might find this opening scenario unconvincing and could be doubtful that it's a movie worth bawling over. When you understand the context- though it's one that I refuse to give away- any strife within the frame of the narrative is worth heartbreak. When you add what is unquestionably the most nuanced and genuine performance of the year, pitch-perfect thematic and tonal balance, and a screenplay that bleeds empathy in an honest bid to relate to any struggling person, you're treated with what is experientially one of the most important displays of human emotion that cinema has to offer.
That's Room: a rare gem that perfectly visualizes a story on every technical level in order to depict complex, raw humanity. Many movies are visually crafted to impress audiences with visual craft; many movies tell emotional stories that don't actually require the medium of film. Room is a perfect synthesis of immense acting, writing, and directing talent serving a powerful narrative: a masterpiece of cinematic storytelling.
Narratively, Room is a movie of two halves. The amount of care and respect that makes the film phenomenal does not vary between them, fortunately- but it is manifested in two very different ways. The first half is a heartbreaking and heartwarming exercise in character development, tension, and world-building. The world in question is a small room: Joy has been trapped there for seven years. Jack was born there and has never seen anything outside of it. He refers to his limited world as "Room". Everything in Room is everything real; everything in Room's TV is "fake" and only exists in the realm of fantasy.
Director Lenny Abrahamson (who was behind last year's Frank- Room's emotional capacity is like that of Frank's last scene a thousand times over) and screenwriter Emma Donoghue (a smart choice, as she wrote the book on which the movie is based, and her vision remains intact) extract an unbelievable amount of tension from a mother and her son interacting in a small room. This is because Abrahamson is a director of genuine feeling and Donoghue has a compelling story to tell- and because the human vessels through which they convey their themes are incredible.
Brie Larson, an actress who has already turned in Oscar-worthy performances early in her career (Short Term 12, anyone?), is a revelation in this movie. She carries the weight of Room's themes with the kind of maturity and nuance that you see maybe a few times a decade. At no point does Larson appear to be acting: she's genuinely hurt, so we hurt with her. She genuinely loves, so we love with her. Her performance as Joy is so uninhibited, natural, and most of all understanding that she envelops every scene with an indelible empathy. If we identify with the personal demons and struggles prevalent throughout the movie, it is largely due to Brie Larson's unquestionably human presence. Her personal development in this role leads to a universal connection that leads to our own personal development. It's breathtaking.
Jacob Tremblay is remarkable as well. Not many child actors could convincingly pull off the various stages of mental and emotional breakdown and rebuild that Jack undergoes, but Tremblay does so with impressive restraint. It'd be a crime if he wasn't nominated for an Oscar this year. And he's what, 9 years old? Watch out, Quvenzhané Wallis.
The second half of the film is a heartbreaking and heartwarming exercise in overcoming trauma, and it is just as effective for all of the aforementioned reasons. The pace does slow down considerably, but with purpose: character development slowly transitions to character study, enabling the narrative to really hammer home its "love conquers pain" theme. The ever-successful writer/director/actors team, thanks to their evidently cohesive efforts, does so beautifully.
And emotionally. I have never openly wept in a theater like I did during Room. But the film deserves such a response: the artists behind this movie appear to want to show us real pain and to experience love. They want to change us, to make us think and feel, and to be human alongside us. And they do it well. That's why Room is an important masterpiece.