Sunday, January 31, 2016

MAKE ’ROOM’ IN YOUR OSCAR VIEWING

By Dominique Paul Noth

Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson in "Room."
“Room” is a fine film that grips veteran moviegoers with panic and identification one moment and tears of anger and recognition the next. It is a small film in production terms  that crept into Oscar consideration – a longshot for best picture and best director, a more likely winner for actress Brie Larson whose believability and determined protective nature as a lonely mother  is a model of controlled presence and is certainly as good as any of the competition in this category.  This is an example of film acting in which behavior and natural reaction are difficult to achieve and brilliant when pulled off.

It is also one of those films that reviewers should tell you as little about, plot-wise, as possible. Much of its success comes from our naturally identifying with mother and child without quite knowing how and why they are caught in such a dilemma. Lindsay Abrahamson’s direction is spot-on in keeping us off balance with claustrophobia constantly in the frame. Yet even as the  behavior and cast of characters spread out, the audience is still trapped in a focus  on  a desperate mother and a five year old she has kept sane and natural by keeping in the dark.

The story goes through many shifts – so that we wind up as scared and apprehensive of the adult invasion as the child is.  It does in a tight story what far more sweeping epics have failed to accomplish. It holds our attention when the real world intrudes and the ugly simplicities of social attitudes are revealed.

This is a good point to reveal that a story that feels factual is fictional.  Emma Donoghue has precisely adapted her best seller and while many could argue the events are inspired by many real life cases, she  has compressed and illuminated a rare but real horror that waits outside our door.

Half of whatever awards Larson wins should be shared with 
Jacob Tremblay, now 9, a member of a family of actors who seems the most natural and independent-minded member of the ensemble. Her accomplishment of playing off him is considerable, but so is his natural behavior as determined by the director.

 Normally, a reviewer would be  skittish of praising a film that relies so heavily on a child, but Abrahamson – employing whatever tricks and psychology he could muster – marries the performance to a constantly purposeful editing method in which continuity is never lost and even enhanced though it is actually being chopped up. The Irish director whose previous work few know has come out of nowhere to reflect a mastery of the director’s art.

There is also a performance by the excellent Joan Allen that should be worthy of Oscar consideration.  As her husband, the fine William Macy is given an almost impossible moment of tension that is in spirit true to the character but in writing is the one false shortcut note in Donoghue’s excellent screenplay.

Embrace the caution of scant details in talking about the movie – and see it.  I doubt if the Oscar ceremony will spend a lot of time on it, but audiences should.

ALSO ABOUT OSCAR: A discussion of the strange Oscar year pulling out for inspection “Spotlight,” “The Danish Girl” and “Carol.” 

Film and drama critic for The Milwaukee Journal for decades, Dominique Paul Noth began his journalism career in the 1960s, first as international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then an editor at the Green Sheet, then combining criticism with stints as arts editor and later senior features editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combined Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and to serve as the first online news producer. He left voluntarily to run online seminars and write about Internet journalism and online newspapers, then served from 2002 to 2013 as editor of the Milwaukee Labor Press and its online portal, milwaukeelabor.org.  The culture-focused Doms Domain has a political counterpart, domsdomainpolitics, and he also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee.