Brie Larson is a shoo-in for best actress at the Academy Awards, but “Room” is so much more than a showcase for one brilliant young talent.
It’s a meditation on parenting and childhood that directly and indirectly addresses rape, women’s rights, domestic violence, post-traumatic stress disorder, media saturation, divorce and suicide. All without one ounce of melodrama.
And half of it takes place in a backyard garden shed.
Larson plays Ma, a woman who was abducted as a teen and held captive for seven years in the aforementioned outbuilding. The film is narrated by her 5-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay), whose whole world is this one “room.” On the nights Ma is visited and assaulted by “Old Nick” (Sean Bridges of “Deadwood”), Jack hides in a wardrobe. Ma formulates a plan for escape, but the world outside poses its own dangers.
No one who watched Showtime’s Kansas City-set “The United States of Tara” could possibly be surprised that Larson is an acting nominee this year. She was fabulous in that series, holding her own against castmates Toni Collette, Rosemaire DeWitt, John Corbett and Patton Oswalt.
But there are moments in “Room” when Larson, as Ma, looks at Jack and in one simple expression shows anguish, pride, rage, love, despair and hope. Even though he’s a kid, Tremblay also probably deserved a nomination. And so did Joan Allen, who plays Jack’s grandmother, a woman who doesn’t exactly know what to think of Jack and who fears she has lost her daughter forever.
Lenny Abrahamson, a directing nominee, somehow made Jack and Ma’s prison feel as big as an entire universe, and followed that up by making the outside world feel claustrophobic. The film also picked up a nomination for Emma Donoghue, who adapted her novel for the screenplay.
But unlike most of the rest of the field, the parts of “Room” add up to a fully realized and whole film, one that is by turns horrific, heartbreaking and yet hopeful.
Even if it’s overlooked Sunday by an academy that has shown itself to be out of touch this Oscar season, “Room” is still the best film of the bunch.
David Frese is The Star’s arts editor