As with The Babadook a year or two ago, I’m again prompted to wonder how this film plays to parents and whether it doesn’t allegorise some of the fears and traumas involved in parenting. I open this way because of all the things the film touches on, it seems to me that the experience of being held captive by a rapist (which is, after all, sadly a real-life torn-from-the-headlines occurrence) is relatively low on the film’s list of interests, though it probably covers more of a realistic emotional arc than, say, the TV show The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. But I get that this is largely because the real-life cases are sensationalised media events, and Room is more interested in how that experience captures an (admittedly dark) side of both being a mother and, to a certain extent, being a woman within a society that empowers this kind of emotional (here literal) imprisonment.
So, yeah, it’s pretty bleak to watch — for all that it eventually opens out a bit — but most of what’s good about the film is in the script and in the acting, especially Brie Larson as the ‘Ma’ (her name is Joy, it turns out). It’s just that in the telling there’s an insistence to certain elements of the directorial style. It’s not merely that I dislike voiceovers (here, it’s the childlike wonder and naïveté of Jacob Tremblay’s Jack who does the duties), but in distancing itself from the kind of domestic horror that The Babadook or We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011) did so well, it layers on rather too thickly a sweeping orchestral score and questing camera movements. The film ends up pushing emotional buttons as voraciously as González Iñárritu, which is to say I imagine it’s going to win quite a few awards, but for me that undermines what it’s trying to achieve in the script. Perhaps I just expected a bleaker and nastier film, but then if this is a film about the fears of parenthood — of inevitably having to let your children into an understanding of the worst of human experience — it’s a film about warmth and security too.
NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW Director Lenny Abrahamson | Writer Emma Donoghue (based on her novel) | Cinematographer Danny Cohen | Starring Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay | Length 117 minutes || Seen at Picturehouse Central, London, Monday 18 January 2016
The Wikipedia entry, at least when I checked it, called this film a “musical mystery thriller film”, but I don’t think that’s right. However, I concede there’s a level of confusion in approaching it, because certainly I’ve never before seen this kind of musical, taking place within the framework of a blend of kitchen-sink realism with talking-heads pseudo-documentary — like Andrea Dunbar via Clio Bernard (in her docudrama The Arbor) as approached by… oh, I don’t even know exactly! Who does musicals like this? But despite being an odd blend, it definitely works. The text is taken from the real-life testimony of locals living on Ipswich’s titular road — we hear the originals over the final credits — commenting on a spate of gruesome murders that took place in 2006. The film isn’t so much a mystery about who committed the murders (that particular issue is resolved fairly straightforwardly, although there certainly is speculation about it), nor is it a thriller exactly, it’s more a drama about how a street of ordinary Englanders — with all their innate conservatism and suspicion of outsiders (especially of the murderered prostitutes) — are oddly brought together as a community against the backdrop of the murders and all the unwanted media attention it brought to their street. Indeed, it’s this chatter of TV news speculation which first starts to cohere into singing within the film. So if the musical form itself is part of that glue, at first it’s only at a formal level — we start out with a bleak colour-drained provincial town filled with dread and mistrust, yet these quite different residents, who avoid one another’s gaze in expectation that each may be the murderer, nevertheless share the same words and echo refrains from one another’s documentary-like testimony. As the film goes on, characters are not just linked formally in this way, but start to actually sing with one another, though it never fully becomes like a typical musical. There may be dance sequences, after a fashion, but the lyrics remain very grounded in naturalistic speech patterns, with all the temporisers and anacolutha that characterise it. Moreover, the film is careful not to detach itself from reality: even towards the end, amongst those who have come to be the film’s moral centres (such as Olivia Colman’s Julie), there are little shards of close-mindedness. The last scene may be the closest it gets to the kind of elevation you might expect in a musical finale, and even that is tempered somewhat — not grandly bittersweet in the style of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg but something just a little bit hopeful and a little bit sad.
NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW Director Rufus Norris | Writer Alecky Blythe (based on the musical by Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork) | Cinematographer Danny Cohen | Starring Olivia Colman | Length 91 minutes || Seen at Picturehouse Central, London, Monday 15 June 2015