Thursday, February 18, 2016

Room

SPOILERS
I don't think
Room is the type of movie that can be spoiled. That is to say, I don't think that the "point" of the movie is to have some big revelation or twist at the end. However, I'm going to be all up in this plot, so if you don't want to know anything at all about Room, this is your warning.

I think the hype for this film already ruined it for me. If I would have seen this film, back it was still a baby movie, doing the rounds on the film festival circuit, instead of this Oscar-nominated suck-my-dick oh-my-god-amazing monstrosity, I may have liked it. And to some extent, it's still a good movie in that it is mostly competent, but I was mainly bored throughout the whole thing. Maybe my expectations were too high.

In my mind, there's two big problems that I want to talk about, but there's a few smaller things I want to hit first:
1 - The cinematography is just fine, which makes it bad. I can make a few excuses for it, like the fact that cost hardly anything to make and working with child actors means you can't do a lot of long takes (because child actors suck), but that doesn't change the fact that handheld cameras, and the plain-old "shot/counter-shot close-ups of characters facing each other while they're talking"style gets boring really fast.
2 - I will contend that children in movies suck always, but the little boy here was not terrible.
3 - Brie Larson is always amazing. You know I loves me some Envy Adams


But besides that, two big things:

The Movie Has a Problem with Perspective
When I say "perspective" I mean it in both in the senses of the worse. First that we follow one character (Jack, the little boy) and are meant to identify with him, and second, we are only privy to the information that he himself is privy to. So, for example, if a conversation happens while Jack is asleep, we as audience members don't get to see it, but get to hear about it later.

Here, a quick summary of the plot is necessary. The story is about one woman, Joy, who was kidnapped seven years and put into a small room (a garden shed, actually), and raped on a nightly basis by her kidnapper, whom she names Old Nick. Five years ago, she gives birth to and raises a young boy named Jack. Old Nick provides food and necessities and things like that, and imagines himself to be saving Joy from the outside world.

First of all, I think this was an over-ambitious choice, or maybe it was just handled poorly. Jack is a boy who has lived his entire life, literally from birth onward, in a tiny room, and knows nothing about the outside. Anyone old enough to see this movie is automatically fighting an uphill battle trying to get inside the head of this child, because we think like adults and we're obviously aware of the outside world. Even though the movie tries really hard to keep the focus on Jack, there was never any doubt in my mind as to who I identified with throughout most of the film: Joy, the mother. I think the most striking example of this is a scene where Joy is trying to explain to Jack that there's a whole world outside, and he doesn't believe her. It's frustrating in the way that trying explain something that we all intuitively know to be true to a child can be. He screams, he throws insults at his mother, and he calls her a liar, and it's so hard as an audience member to recognize this character as the protagonist instead of the adult calmly and patiently trying to talk to her little boy.

Again, the movie would have been much more engaging, in my opinion, if the focus was on the mother. There's a long sequence where she decides to fake Jack's death so that they can escape the room. After Old Nick rolles Jack's "dead body" into a rug and puts him into a pickup truck, Jack gets a chance to escape. When the truck comes to a stop, Jack hops out, and there is literally a hundred billion people on the street he could ask for help but he doesn't say a goddamn thing. Now, Jack lacks agency and understanding for this entire situation. That is to say, he doesn't make any choices in this situation and he doesn't comprehend what's at stake. On the flip side, his mother has to struggle with these huge choices and fears: "Do I risk sending my only son out with this rapist-kidnapper or raise him in this garden shed?" "What happens if Old Nick finds out he's been tricked?" "Is Jack old enough to handle this responsibility?" I mean, can you imagine how frightening she must have been alone in that room after Jack's "dead body" went outside? That scene would have been so much more interesting to watch.

So, because our perspective is limited only to Jack, we miss out on a few crucial scenes, like Joy waiting inside the room to find out if Jack escapes or not, which is frustrating enough, but then the movie doesn't even stick to its own goddamn rule. There are times when the audience doesn't get to see something because Jack doesn't get to see it, but then there are times when the movie goes ahead and shows us something Jack couldn't possibly see or hear for no reason. Sometimes we get to see scenes when Jack is asleep, and sometimes we don't. Sometimes we're not shown scenes while Jack is out of the room, unless Jack is in the basement and the conversation takes place out in the yard. Make up your fucking mind, movie. If you're going to stick with this stupid idea, stick with it.

And that's the thing, the idea of keeping the focus on Jack and limiting the information the audience is given is a stupid idea. This type of "limited perspective" filmmaking works best in films where the lack of information is the point of the movie. It's best for mysteries. Think Chinatown or Maltese Falcon, where both the main character and the audience don't know who to trust and what's going on behind the scenes. Oldboy is great at this, where a man gets thrown into a room for 15 years and he has no idea why, and we don't either, and that's the joy of the movie. Here, instead of there being any mystery -- because again, we are adults and live in the world that Jack is being introduced to for the first time -- Jack's confusion is not our confusion. Instead of seeing how Joy's father is handling his divorce and his new grandson, or seeing how Old Nick reacted when he was arrested, or seeing Joy in the hospital struggling with depression, we get to see Jack figure out how pancakes work.

The Movie Has a Plot Problem
This movie suffers from having too many plots and not enough story.

Essentially, the movie has three parts: the time spent living in the room, the time spent escaping the room, and the time spent adjusting to life outside of the room. Any one of these three sections would have been plenty to fill an entire movie. Ninety minutes based around a mother and child trying to escape their kidnapper would have been a good thriller, or showing Jack grow up in room and focusing on how it affects him, or show both of them try to figure out living would have been really interesting. But we get all three of these things so plot points get touched on but never resolved or they get focused on for no point or payoff later on.

The beginning of the movie focuses on Joy and Jack living in the room, doing their best to maintain their sanity and not exactly succeeding. Jack is not only a little kid who can't handle his emotions, but he has nothing to focus his energy on, so there's a lot of yelling and frustration. Joy has these "Gone Days" where she just lays in bed all day. I would mind it if the plot of the movie was nothing more than them inside the room for the whole time, and the point of the movie being how to be happy in a shitty situation.

The short middle section is all about deciding to, and succeeding in, escaping from the room. This was my favorite part of the film because it's the only part of the movie with stakes, despite the movie shooting itself in the foot by focusing on Jack. There is even a lot of comparisons drawn to The Count of Monte Cristo and Alice in Wonderland that I would have loved to have seen played out -- those revenge and escape themes. In the film that we got however, these allusions are quickly discarded and never mentioned again.

The last and longest section is about the two of them adjusting to the real world. I think this last part is handled so clumsily and it hurt. One problem is that the important things go by so fast and unimportant shit gets focused on. For example, shortly after escaping Jack forms a bond with his step-grandfather, Leo, over a bowl of ice cream. It's a cute scene, honestly, but any other opportunity to expand on this relationship is discarded, and the two of them barely share any dialogue for the rest of the film. Joy states that she wishes Jack would form an attachment with someone or something other than her, and what I thought was a very crucial moment in that growth -- Jack making a friend the same age he is -- gets zero screentime whatsoever. The little friend just kinda, shows up one day, and I guess they've been friends for a while? Or they just met and instantly bonded or something? I have no idea.

A huge problem with this whole last section is the TV in the first section. See, because Jack could always watch TV in the room, he isn't really completely clueless about things in the outside world. He's seen all of it before. And while there are a few things that Jack has to figure out -- for example, he doesn't know how to walk up and down stairs -- for the most part, he knows what stuff is. In my mind, this is a huge missed opportunity. This movie would have been so much more interesting if it was about a boy not knowing what a bird was and seeing one for the first time, or never feeling wind on his face, or, fuck, even seeing a TV for the first time must be a jarring experience. That movie would have been so interesting to watch.

So yeah, Room. It is a movie. See if you want to, but maybe don't, yeah?
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