Archive for February, 2016

The Witch (dir. Robert Eggers)

Posted: February 26, 2016 in Uncategorized

“The Witch” is not really a horror movie. It may be marketed as such for commercial purposes, but the film is too artsy and metaphorical to really be considered one. Like Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist”, it too is shoehorned into the horror genre because it’s the closest generic description one can place on it, even though it’s not really trying to terrify or scare you in any traditional sense. Also, like “Antichrist”, the film is an attack on religion. Sure, religion may more or less exist within the fictional universe both films create as a real, existing entity, but that should not be confused with the films arguing that religion is true in our universe.

The story takes place in what will later be called the United States in the 1600s. A family, lead by patriarch William (Ralph Ineson, who has a great voice and does a good job selling this character) is excommunicated from a Puritan Christian village for heresy. Basically, William is to this village what Ted Cruz is to the Senate Republicans, someone who claims he is a true believer and everyone else is pretender or a sell-out, and thus annoys everyone else around him into shunning him. So, William and his family, which includes wife Katherine (Kate Dickie), daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), and their twins and a baby, set out into the wilderness alone to live as a family unit. The film then cuts to a few months later, just before winter falls. Their corn isn’t growing, bread is running scarce, the natives are no longer coming by to trade with them, and they can’t seem to hunt and kill any game for meat. Things, in other words, are not going well. Thomasin perhaps has the seeds of doubt as to religion, and certainly has doubts as to her father’s competency as head of the household, which is heresy itself to believe in a family of this Calvinist dynamic. William and Katherine are having marriage difficulties, with Katherine missing England, losing love and faith in her husband, and yet their religion gets in the way of them having an honest conversation about their feelings with one another, or even to themselves. William, a devout man, can’t reconcile his own feelings of guilt and failure with the religion that tells him he is supreme and correct as the head male of the family. Caleb, meanwhile, is coming of age. Thomasin, being the only girl around his age who is not his mother, is a guilty object of lust to him. He also seeks his father’s approval and to be allowed to fulfill his family and godly role as the eldest male child.

The catalyst for the film’s action is when the baby disappears under Thomasin’s care (in a moment as she shields her eyes to play peek-a-boo with the infant), and how this disruption tears at the little remaining fabric keeping the family, their faith, and their connection to one another together. The film shows us a witch has kidnapped and killed the baby, but is this witch literal, or metaphorical? When the twins say they talk to the family’s goat, named Black Phillip, are they just playing a game, or really talking? Is this a story about false accusations, like “The Crucible”, or is something actually supernatural happening? Is it really the plot that matters, or is this all symbolic window-dressing?

“The Witch” is about how religion gets in the way of and obfuscates everything in life. Whether it’s honesty, relationships, growing up, accepting oneself and their wants and desires, accepting others, or female empowerment, religion is constantly presented in the film as a blockade to healthy human interaction. From the moment William’s pious religiosity forces the family out on their own, the family’s deeply felt and believed religious inclinations cause nothing but sorrow and grief. When the baby disappears and is presumed dead, Caleb is inconsolably upset by the idea that the unbaptized baby has gone to Hell, despite that baby having done nothing wrong. But hey, that’s original sin for you! Katherine is beset with sorrow over this to the point where she spend her days weeping in bed. Thomasin, who already has doubts about her father’s supremacy, overhears that the family essentially plans to sell her off to another family like chattle to survive further, becoming a commodity based on the father’s religion-based failures. Any time these characters attempt to talk to one another, their true feelings cannot be expressed because there are too many requisite references to god which must be spoken in the place of words of comfort or actually, deeply held personal feelings. The only members of the family who truly seem free are the twins because, well, they are too young to be expected to be as deeply religious as the older members who should “know better”.

The devil in this film is a metaphor for rejecting the constraints of religion and living a pure and fulfilling life where you seek out your own desires and are honest about who you are and what you want, and are able to speak your mind. It’s no wonder that a Satanic church endorsed the film. The modern day Satanists are actually atheists who do not believe in the Christian conception of Satan, but rather are “moral hedonists”, who I’d explain in an oversimplified way as Ayn Rand meets Wicca. I’m not much of a fan of Anton LeVay-esque Satanism as it strikes me as the sort of Right-Wing selfishness my Marxist self despises, but their contempt for the major religions rivals my own, so I have a grudging respect for them in an enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend sort of manner. The film is a pretty good filmic representation of Satanism’s attitude about Christianity. Since Thomasin is ultimately our main character, this provides the film with a more feminist bent than you’d otherwise get, about femininity being restrained by the straight jacket of Christianity, but given that the other characters are also given arcs that don’t end as freeing and as happily as hers, it can’t be said that the feminist bent is the overarching theme. Caleb in the film is at one point seduced by the devil, which obviously represents the freeing of guilt and embracing of desire, but he becomes a reactionary, falling back into praising his religion, and thus *SPOILER dies because of it *END SPOILER* William is brought down by blaming himself when he should be blaming father, and Katherine is brought down by falling back into a stereotypical mother role instead of freeing herself to follow what she really wants, which is to leave the family and go back to her homeland.

It should be said that the film is masterfully made. The direction and cinematography are beautiful, the score is pitch perfect, the acting is on point (especially considering the accurate period dialogue) and while the film isn’t scary in any traditional sense, a veneer of tension underlies every scene from the beginning shot up until the final shot. From a nuts and bolts construction stand point, the film is flawless. The film even won its director, Robert Eggers, the Best Director award from the Sundance film festival, which is no small achievement.

What the film suffers from is the expectations of the audience. The horror author Brian Keene tweeted that 90% of the audience is too stupid to get the film. I’m likely to agree. Of the 10% who understand the film some, like my girlfriend, will find the message too obvious to be worth all the artistry and hubbub surrounding it. The fact that 90% of the audience would miss such an obvious message is, perhaps, an encapsulation of everything wrong with the modern moviegoer, especially the horror sort who devours PG-13 garbage like “The Forest” and “The Boy”. Still, this is a film that would have benefited from a limited release where the film could be sold as more of what it is instead of what horror audiences may have wanted it to be. This film isn’t up to the level of “Antichrist”, but it’s very good and any film that hates Christianity this much endears itself to me. I guess I perhaps wish it chose a more unique or interesting vehicle for attack than a witch story, as witches are common vehicle for stories of religious fanaticism and zealotry.

“The Witch”, then, is a mismarketed, beautifully made and gorgeous looking film with an obvious message which will still be lost on most of the audience. B.

Deadpool (dir. Tim Miller)

Posted: February 19, 2016 in Uncategorized

The most surprising thing about “Deadpool” is how mainstream it is.  Yes it has a non-lienear story structure, breaks the fourth wall often, and contains dialogue that sounds like it comes from the mouth of a 14-year-old boy who just watched his first “Troma” film. Those things, minus maybe the non-linear storyline, are not at all present in Marvel films either in the MCU or in Fox’s separate Marvel films. “Deadpool” is also the first R-rated Marvel movie since the beginning of the MCU, as the “Punisher” films and “Blade” all came before the recent onslaught of Marvel-ness to our cinemas.  Perhaps because of these elements, I was expecting “Deadpool” to be more edgy.  Instead, this is pretty much every other superhero movie, except dirtier, more violent, and with a lower budget. The lower budget actually helps, as I for one am tired of superhero films that end with a bunch of CGI cartoons punching each other. Still, “Deadpool” seems like a wasted opportunity to raise the artistic level of these films to something artsier and more challenging. Instead, we get a super-powered Punisher by way of Randall from “Clerks”.

 

The origin story is fairly bland. A former soldier, Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds, channeling his “Van Wilder” and “Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place” days) who now does petty revenge jobs gets cancer.  This is upsetting because he is in love with his girlfriend, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and knows his death will hurt her more than it hurts him.  So, Wade signs up with a shadowy private organization to undergo a series of painful experiments to wake his dormant mutant genes (this is Fox’s “X-Men” universe) and not only cure his cancer, but give him superpowers.  Of course, the guy running these tests is Ajax (Ed Skrein), real name Francis (It’s a fairly funny running joke), a sociopath with no empathy that has the super power of…not being able to feel pain.  You know there are people who really have that condition?  It’s really dangerous and not an advantageous super power at all.  Anyway, it eventually comes out that the private organization is actually (gasp) an evil profit-making venture where they create superheroes and sell them as slaves to rich, evil people.  The chance for social commentary here is wasted.

 

So, the movie largely consists of Wade strapping on a red leather suit and wisecracking his way through a revenge plot to kill Francis, but not before he can find out how Francis can undo the side-effect of the mutant treatment, which has left Wade looking like Freddy Krueger.  Wade mostly wants to cure those looks because he’s afraid Vanessa will no longer love him, which is an oddly shallow and somewhat insulting-toward-women feeling, but the film gives Wade a pass on this.  I’m sure there’s a message here about boys who talk large and loud but are self-conscious on the inside, but it’s likely lost among the dick jokes.

 

“Deadpool” tries to be progressive in some ways.  There’s a montage mid-way through the film showing Deadpool killing his way through Francis’s underlings. In one block he’s attacked two female associates, and he talks to himself as he wonders which is the sexist act: killing them, because he’s killing women, or not killing them because they’re women. This is a little bit of clever self-awareness among the film’s slew of sophomoric awareness, and I wish the film had more of it.  The film is in a weird place where it has humor which is by nature immature and male-centric, but is still attempting to not be as puerile and sexist as that humor normally necessitates.  An earlier sex montage, wherein Wade and Vanessa’s relationship is shown throughout a year of holiday-centric sex, features Wade being pegged in the ass by Vanessa because it’s Women’s Independence Day, or something like that. Wade being cool with that, kind of, and still being a masculine action hero for men to admire is a bit progressive, as are Deadpool’s occasional homosexual jokes which indicate he enjoys prostate fingering and playing with men’s balls.  Readers of the comic will know that Deadpool is pretty much bisexual, but the film seems shy of admitting this outright and sticks to coding gayness into the character (sewing, wearing “Rent” hoodie, listening to Wham! Records…though the latter two I also enjoy, so…).  It’s as if the film doesn’t want to be homophobic, but because it knows much of the audience will be, it can only express homosexuality through self-deprecating humor, which isn’t reactionary per se, but a missed opportunity, and shows an odd timidness to a film that is supposed to revel in the excess of R-rated freedom.  If we combine this with Vanessa basically being a one-dimensional love interest who becomes a damsel in distress by the end even though her early introductory scenes play at making her a bit more original, and the film fails at being progressive. Sad, because if a comic movie was really going to push boundaries, I can’t imagine a better vehicle for doing so than “Deadpool”.  Now that the film is a success, the sequels will have higher budgets, and thus less creative freedom.

 

I don’t mean to be a party-pooper, because the film is a lot of fun.  It’s not as bloody or gory as I was expecting, but the violence is there and it’s a fun, comic book style that using Wade’s dialogue as music and punctuation.  There’s just enough nudity to keep us in R territory but not enough to disappoint the 14-year-old boys of today who have the internet.  This film has 80s action movie nudity, with background strippers and a semi-covered sex scene.  Wade’s dialogue is occasionally groan inducing, but more often than not it is funny, and the glee behind the delivery somehow strips the vulgarity away from it.  Hearing Wade swear is like hearing a 10-year-old swear. Compared to the horrendously unfunny vulgarity of “Dirty Grandpa”, this was a relief. It never feels mean-spirited, even if it’s directed at a particular character that way.  An hour and a half of it can get a little old, but usually there’s some action to break it up.

 

We also get two X-Men in the proceedings.  There’s the CGI Colossus, portrayed more true to the comic than his previous film iterations, who with a thick Russian accent represents more conventional comic book morality in a film that finds him cute and simple.  We also get Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), who is an angsty Hot Topic teen who has the power of generating atomic blasts from her body and yet, somehow, can’t just kill all the villains herself with a power greater than Deadpool’s or Colossus. Much like how Storm could pretty much defeat anyone if she can control of the Earth’s weather, the X-Men are always given powers too powerful for the writers to know what to do with.

 

The film was written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (the “Zombieland guys) and directed by Tim Miller, an animator and special effects artist who has now been given his first live action film.  Miller does a good job of directing action sequences that are obviously low budget and limited in sets and scope and still not making an audience who has seen an entire city fly in “Age of Ultron” feel let down. We are aware of special relations in battle, a big plus, and we’re not confused or hit with a barrage of quit scenes. Miller’s animation has had large platforms, such as the great opening credits sequence for Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, and he shows promise as a director here.

 

The bottom line is that this is a good, fun action movie.  You will probably enjoy it.  I did.  However, if you are expecting “Deadpool” to be original, subversive, progressive, or ambitious in any way, you will be disappointed.  Compared to the other Marvel films we’re getting, I enjoyed the character-centric and comparatively CGI-light nature of the film, but I walked away feeling like this was a missed opportunity for something greater if the filmmakers had swung for the fences a bit more and treated this like a $50 million indie as opposed to a $50 million X-Men movie.  Still, the movie knows when to make fun of itself (those opening credits made me chuckle) and the stylistic differences from other Marvel films are enough to make this one of the better ones we’ve seen. B.

“Hail, Caesar” is a film that deals with religion, Capitalism, and Communism.  It also deals with early 1950s Hollywood and features wonderful recreations of some of the worst types of movies made in that era, including aquatic features, westerns where there’s more singing than shooting, musicals noted more for dancing than their music, pretentious Broadway adaptations, and sword-and -andals epics.  I don’t quite know what the film is saying, but it sure is having a fun time saying it.

 

The year is 1951, and Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is the head of production at Capitol Pictures. His job is to make sure all of the movies the studio is bankrolling are going smoothly.  If they’re not, he’s not above slapping women or men to get them in shape.  The job is tough, and he’s considering a job change with better money and longer hours for weapons manufacturer Lockheed.  He’s also a Catholic who seemingly goes to confession every night.

 

The biggest movie the studio is bankrolling is “Hail, Caesar”, a sword-and-sandals epic about a Roman soldier who meets Jesus and becomes convinced of his divinity. There’s a very funny scene early on where Mannix calls a rabbi and representatives from three different Christian denominations to the studio to look over the script and make sure it won’t offend anyone. This leads to a long discussion about the trinity that is hilarious in how it points out the absurdity of the whole God is Jesus is God scenario.  The Coen Brothers, who wrote and directed this film, are Jewish, and thus give the Rabbi the best lines about how absurd the whole Jesus thing is.

 

The lead star of the epic film is Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), a good actor who is not very bright and known for drinking and womanizing. One day on set two extras slip him a drug and kidnap him. They bring him to a house in Malibu filled with writers, who are all Communists.  When Whitlock wakes up, the film gives us a good 5 minutes of the writers explaining Marxist dialectics in the wonkiest fashion possible. Clearly the Coens, who also co-wrote “Bridge of Spies” recently, have done their homework on Marxism.  I don’t think the Coens particularly have an opinion on Communism one way or the other, as the Communists in this film mostly exist to be the butt of jokes about how writers are underappreciated in Hollywood, which is a trope we often get in films about moviemaking.  The film seems to make some subtle comparisons between Communism caring about “the little guy” and Jesus caring about Roman slaves and such, which seems to be positive, but the film’s attitude toward Christianity seems to be that of well-meaning foolishness, so that’s possibly what the Coens believe as well.  That doesn’t mean Capitalism gets off easy, though. Naming the studio Capitol Pictures was not an accident, and Mannix’s only morality seems to that of making the movies finished and released, regardless of whether or not unethical happenings go on behind the scenes.  If this film has any message, it may simple be that movies are important, no matter how silly.

 

After all, Mannix is told bad things about the movie industry from his Lockheed recruiter, who advises him that airplanes and A-bombs are more important.  Oddly enough, the Communists feel movies are important, believing that by putting Communist messages into their scripts they can affect the status quo from the inside.  Despite being typical writers bitching about being underpaid, they give up their money to the Soviet government, setting up that they’re not completely selfish.  In much the same fashion, Mannix gives up the lucrative offer from Lockheed, despite the inference from his wife (Alison Pill) that she’d like him to choose that option, because he finds movies to be more important and fulfilling.  The film seems to be arguing that giving up something for a cause greater than one self is good, but that cause should not be religion or revolution, but MOVIES. That message is itself absurd, but kind of charming.

 

The film has plenty of tangentially related B stories.  There’s the pregnant out of wedlock actress (Scarlett Johansson) that the studio doesn’t want to have a tarnished name.  There’s the western actor (Alden Ehrenreich) who is conscripted into making a film that is outside of his comfort zone and his talents, much to the dismay of the pretentious director (Ralph Fiennes) that has to work with him.  There’s also Channing Tatum, singing and dancing in homosexual-in-plain-sight-but-still-in-the-celluloid-closet film involving male sailors singing about going out to sea with “no dames” to look forward to.  I haven’t even scratched the surface of bit roles and cameos filled by great actors of all stripes.

 

Despite Communism kind of being made fun of, I’m inclined to have warm feelings to any film that features such wonky Marxist jargon like “dialectics”, “Praxis”, “means of production”, “base and superstructure”, “theory and anti-theory”, etc.  I’m also, a film lover, inclined to enjoy seeing the Golden Age of Hollywood recreated so wonderfully, in visual style and even in aspect ratio sometimes.  “Hail, Caesar” is not a film meant for mainstream audiences, but it hits me in just the right place.

 

I’m not always a fan of the Coen Brothers. For every film of theirs I love (“Fargo”, “The Big Lebowski”) there are many I despise (“The Hudsucker Proxy”, “The Ladykillers”).  This is one of the better ones. The Coen Brothers have an issue of putting too much comedy in their drama, but when they focus on just making a comedy they seem more in their element.  The film isn’t exactly uproariously funny, but I smiled a lot while the film went on, and I laughed a decent amount too.

 

This is not a film for everyone, and many people may find themselves bored with lengthy scenes of films-within-the-film that have little bearing on the plot.  Still, this is a quirky little gem that hit all of the right notes with me. B+

Dirty Grandpa (Dir. Dan Mazer)

Posted: February 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

“Dirty Grandpa” is a film that thinks having Robert DeNiro say vulgar things is the height of comedy. They don’t have to be funny and vulgar, just vulgar. This is also a film where Robert DeNiro is shown masturbating to porn, a tissue box blocking his penis from frame but otherwise nude reclining in a La-Z-Boy, while his grandson (Zac Efron) walks in. The presence of his grandson is not greeted with embarrassment, or even stopping the masturbating.  Unless Robert DeNiro is in a level of Nic Cage debt that has previously gone unreported, I have no idea why he would agree to make this film.

 

The film is simply not funny.  It is edited in such a sharp and sloppy way that even lines or scenes that could potentially, or at least theoretically, be funny are not. You know how in many Judd Apatow films he’ll have his actors improve different lines, and he’ll leave maybe 3-4 of those improvs in the finished film? “Dirty Grandpa” does that too, except the improvs are not funny, and they feel awkward.  This is also a film where the characters do not act in a manner in which normal human beings would ever act.  Imagine you are a woman who is calling your fiancé on Facetime. With you are your future in-laws and a rabbi. When your fiancé appears on camera, he has a swastika made up of penises drawn on his forehead.  What would your reaction be? I assure you, that reaction is not the reaction of the characters in this film.

 

The plot, such as it is, is simple. DeNiro’s wife has died, and not that he’s single he wants to have unprotected sex with college girls. His grandson, Efron, is enlisted to drive him down to Florida for the ostensible reason of fulfilling an annual tradition DeNiro had with his wife.  However, Efron is set to marry his fiancé, Meredith (Julianne Hough) in a few days. Meredith is a controlling, superficial, manipulative person. The film gives her no redeeming qualities.  On the drive down they run into a former classmate of Efron’s, Shadia (Zoey Deutch), who the film makes clear likes Efron and who is a better match for Efron. Also with Shadia is Lenore, who is played by Aubrey Plaza and is the only decent thing in this film. Lenore is an extremely exaggerated portrayal of a very horny girl who likes older men. It’s clear Aubrey Plaza was having fun with this character, and if she had not already done a far better raunchy comedy a few years ago called “The To-Do List” perhaps I would have appreciated her more. Plaza finds a way of making this character so cartoonishly sex-crazy without making her seem pejoratively slutty. I don’t know how, but she pulls it off. She’s the one thing that leaves this film unscathed. In any event, Lenore wants to fuck DeNiro, DeNiro wants to fuck Lenore, and things keep getting in the way.

 

Upon running into Shadia and Lenore, DeNiro and Efron’s plans change and they head to Spring Break at Daytona Beach.  This results in multiple arrests, accidental crack usage, a misunderstanding about child molestation involving a stuffed bee on Efron’s crotch, and more manic and unfunny sequences.  There are some attempts at satire, like having two police characters who are so corrupt that the film is obviously trying to make a point about how cops during Spring Break look the other way on crimes related to drunkenness and partying because of the economic benefit Spring Break brings to the area for that week, but the cops are so ridiculously over-the-top that they don’t fit the tone of the film and it comes off as unfunny, forced, and weird.

 

“Dirty Grandpa” was directed by Dan Mazar, who is mostly known as the co-writer of many of Sacha Baron Cohen’s films, like “Ali G Indahouse”, “Borat”, and “Bruno”.  I like all of those films (even “Bruno”), but Mazar didn’t write “Dirty Grandpa” and he sure as shit can’t seem to direct or edit a film in a way that makes things funny. This film is aggressively unfunny. Granted, it looks like the cast had fun while they were making it, but the only fun to be had in watching it is schadenfreude at how low DeNiro’s career has gotten in recent years, especially if you ignore his work with David O. Russell.  Well, Aubrey Plaza in a thong isn’t too bad either, but it’s not worth the price of admission or sitting through 102 minutes of this crap. D+

Room (dir. Lenny Abrahamson)

Posted: February 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

The novel on which “Room” is based was unique.  It was unique because it was written from the first-person point of view of a six-year-old boy.  It also, surprisingly, sounded like the authentic voice of a six-year-old when you read it.  The form was important as the story, and the story alone was pretty heartbreaking, revolving around a woman who was kidnapped, locked in a shed for about 7 years, and who gives birth to a baby fathered by her repeated rapist.  We’ve seen news stories like this in recent years, of women who are locked up for years in basements or sex dungeons and who eventually find their way to freedom.  Some, almost assuredly, are not so lucky. “Room” gave us the point of view of someone born into those conditions and doesn’t know any other world.  If you don’t know any better, even a prison can seem like home.  If you’re young enough, you can even be taught that it’s all that exists of the world.

 

The film adaptation of “Room” loses some of the book’s power because, regardless of whether it has occasional voiceover from the six-year-old, film can feel like a more objective medium. We’re on the outside looking at the mother (Brie Larson, who is absolutely terrific) and the son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and not inside Jack’s head trying to piece together what’s happening from Jack’s limited cognitive skills and vocabulary. From shot one we see the squalor of the shed they live in, which has a skylight, a bed, a wardrobe that Jack calls a bed, a bathtub, and a small kitchenette. The mother has told Jack lies to make it easier for Jack to accept his surroundings. Pieces of furniture take on personas, people on the TV are not real, and so on.  It’s very much like Roberto Benigni lying to his son during the Holocaust in “Life is Beautiful” (1997).  What the medium of film does is shift some of the focus from Jack to the mother.  In the book Jack has no issue with the shed, which he calls “room” because it’s the only world he knows, and it his home. The film, by letting us see for ourselves what it looks like, and see the mother, named Joy, clearly dirty, malnourished, and unhealthy from this situation, we know and understand objectively what Jack cannot know subjectively.  We see the looks on Joy’s face when she’s frustrated with Jack’s limited comprehension, depressed over her situation, or hopeful when Jack picks up on knowledge she’s trying to impart.

 

The plot is really set into motion when the man who has kidnapped Joy, known only as Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), lets Joy know that he’s been laid off of work and money is scarce.  Joy, fearing that Old Nick will cut off their electricity or stop buying them groceries, or just abandon them to die at worse, realizes that it’s more critical than ever to escape, and Jack might just be old enough to help. It’s not much of a spoiler to reveal that they do eventually escape, and the bulk of the film is about Jack dealing with experiencing the new world, Joy coming to grips with the guilt of raising Jack in the shed instead of giving him away at birth, and Joy’s family dealing with the daughter they thought was dead being back, and her new son being both a joy himself and a sorrow because, well, he’s half of Old Nick too.

 

While the movie is pretty faithful to the book (the author, Emma Donoghue, also wrote the screenplay) they are two different experiences.  The book is about perceptions, particularly Jack’s perception, explanations, and rationalizations for experiences he cannot understand but has to live through anyway. The film is about the raw emotions of everyone involved.  When Joy is actually asked why she didn’t give Jack up, you can read the guilt on her face.  Joy was a prisoner, alone, taken from her family. Having a son gave her company, but also a reason to keep going. He was someone to teach, love, talk to, and pretty much the only thing that could have kept her going.  At the same time, his life would have been much better if she had just let Old Nick drop him off at a safe space, and Joy was selfish to keep him, and she knows it.  The way Brie Larson lets you read all of that on her face without saying anything is, quite frankly, worthy of the Oscar nomination she has received for this role.

 

Watching “Room” is an emotionally brutal experience.  What has happened to Joy is an egregious horror from which nothing can truly be rectified.  Even if Old Nick is convicted and spends his life in jail, it doesn’t really fix anything. Jack still spends his first six years in a shed, and his father is still the evil rapist who kidnapped his mother.  Joy’s life has been interrupted and while her friends went off and had lives and her family all moved on, she could not. When looking through photographs, she points out how they just lived their lives, but she had her life stolen from her.  Even free, she can never be the same person she once was.  Her family, well, we get the feeling her mother and father (Joan Allen and William H. Macy) broke up over everything, and who knows what else was affected. Tragedies have ripple effects like that.

 

The novel may be more original because of form, but the film loses nothing of the devastating emotional content that the novel’s story held.  “Room” is an immaculately performed, excellent drama. Watching it at times feels like being punched in the gut, and I mean that as a compliment. It’s a powerful film in an age when many films are easy and weak. A-