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sábado, 16 de janeiro de 2016

Room review: 'less powerful than the book'

Despite the affecting performances of its leads, this adaptation of Emma Donogue's bestselling novel never achieves lift-off
Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay in 'Room'
The room in Emma Donoghue’s Room, a worldwide publishing smash that was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2010, is a garden shed, locked from the outside, in which a brutalised young mother and her five-year-old son are kept permanently imprisoned. Told from the unique perspective of this child, for whom the room’s contents constitute an entire universe, the book is hard to shake off: Donoghue’s command of the details, the voice of her underinformed narrator, the mother-son relationship, and the unfolding horrors of their story make it the kind of thing you whip through in one sitting.
On film, it’s a slightly different beast. Few of the crucial plot manoeuvres have been changed – Donoghue’s own script is a tidy treatment, carefully placing one foot in front of the other, before breaking into a brief sprint halfway through. The director, Lenny Abrahamson, has form with tricky subject matter, stories of social exclusion and life on the margins – from the junkie portrait Adam & Paul to his investigation of disturbed musical genius in Frank. And the two actors playing Joy and Jack – rising indie queen Brie Larson (Short Term 12, Trainwreck) and nine-year-old Canadian Jacob Tremblay – are ideally chosen, both for their mutual resemblance and yin-yang energy on screen.
It ought to be a triumph. Somehow, though, it lacks the flooding emotional force Donoghue gave it on the page. This realisation creeps up on you slowly. Perhaps another screenwriter might have been better placed to repair some of the book’s vague implausibilities, which become all too specific when they’re acted out. The sudden credulity of Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), the rapist who abducted Joy at age 19 and fathered Jack two years later, is one such lapse, when his prisoners try to finagle an escape. So is the timing of a major character’s attempted suicide. The film, not unlike portions of Gone Girl, could have used a critical eye other than the novelist’s own to help finesse its suspense.
Abrahamson scores very highly, though, in making the daily rituals of this malnourished pair come credibly alive. From the first shot of Tremblay, with his long hair and girlish comportment, the film asks questions about the kind of maternal nurturing he’s received: it makes sense that he would mimic a lot of his mother’s mannerisms. He’s superbly directed, and could hardly be much better in the part than he is. The voiceover, though, is shaky: not quite an adequate substitute for his broken grammar, and non sequiturs, and general Jack-ness on the page.
Brie Larson with Jacob Tremblay in Room
Brie Larson with Jacob Tremblay in RoomCredit: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock
Restraint and taste creep in, often in cahoots with an overinsistent piano score. The book makes repeated mention of Joy still breastfeeding her son; on film this is touched on just twice, and other details such as an earlier stillbirth, and an abortion Joy had before being kidnapped, aren’t included. You wouldn’t call these crucial points – they just dampen the feminist charge of Joy fighting to reclaim her own destiny.
Larson, within the role’s ever so slightly cramped range, is impeccable at just about everything she’s asked to do here. She could undoubtedly have handled more. Teetering on the verge of giving up, her Joy and the chipper heroine of Pixar’s Inside Out are instructive opposites, even if they’re equally obliged to put a brave face on things for the youngster depending on them. You could read Donoghue’s whole conceit as a metaphor for mental illness or depression – being cooped up in a locked cell, stuck with a babbling lone companion who drives you up the wall, and looking for an out, one way or another.
As parents pushed apart by their daughter’s disappearance, that old Pleasantville duo of Joan Allen and William H. Macy pop up in the second half – more productively in her case than his, though both have their moments. Abrahamson supplies a gentle humanity in the late going that gives this creepy fable an exit strategy  – it’s good, but also a somewhat glassy experience, lacking the cathartic lift-off we might have anticipated.

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