“I just didn’t want it to end. I kept saying ‘keep going’, ‘keep going.’ My heart was just pounding.” That’s what I immediately heard from people sitting right behind me as credits rolled on this morning’s highly emotional screening of Room, a demanding, at times grueling, at times joyous, but ultimately richly satisfying triumph of independent filmmaking at its very best. Even at a 9AM Saturday screening the deeply felt reaction from a near-capacity crowd of movie lovers at the Telluride Film Festival’s Palm Theatre was palpable. The raucous standing ovations for the filmmakers and cast when introduced at the post-screening Q&A was proof positive. “Wait until my mom hears about this!” said director Lenny Abrahamson as he walked out to a massive reception with many in the audience in tears. “It was a real Telluride moment, wasn’t it,” said one person connected with the film who has been coming to this festival for several years running. Indeed it was. The film, being released stateside next month by A24, is based on the 2010 bestseller about a young mother held hostage by a sicko man for years in a one-room shed with the 5-year-old son born during her captivity. The first half covers what happens during her captivity, while the second half explores the aftermath. What’s remarkable is that Emma Donoghue’s book came out years before the infamous, eerily similar Cleveland case was even known. Donoghue, who was also present for the Q&A along with stars Brie Larson, Joan Allen and young Jacob Tremblay, masterfully adapted her own novel. This is a movie that asks a lot of its audience, but one that pays big rewards. It is one of the most emotional experiences I have had in a theater in a very long time. Right now, this minute, A24 should get its Oscar campaign rolling because there are multiple possibilities for nominations: for Larson as Best Actress in a gut-wrenching, brilliant performance; perennial Oscar-nominated Joan Allen as her mother who turns up with equal power in the film’s second half; and for young Tremblay, a lead-pipe cinch for a Best Supporting Actor nomination as Jack, the young boy who has known life only in “room” as he and Ma, his mother, call it. This is one of the finest juvenile performances I have seen. It’s almost an insult to label it as such. It is right up there with any actor’s work this year to be sure. Tremblay didn’t get to say a whole lot at the Q&A except when asked to comment on collaborating with Abrahamson. “I’ve worked with lots of directors and he’s a really good one,” he said to big laughs. Said the director, “This is an actor’s performance, this is something that demands great emotional subtlety and understand of timing, and it’s all there in Jake.”
Abrahamson noted he was drawn to the material because it is at its heart a love story between a mother and a son. In its second half, with the emergence of Allen’s grandmother, it becomes a love story between two mothers and a child. Just extraordinary stuff. “It was a joyful experience to make it even though the subject matter is very challenging,” Abrahamson added. Larson, who delivers on her promise in another great indie, Short Term 12, proves to be one of the industry’s most talented young stars, no question. For her playing Ma was its own journey, but she’s quite articulate in summing up what the movie was to the character who had been held in captivity since age 17 and must come to terms with who she is now. “I think that this movie deals a lot with expectation, and expectations that can never be met. You’re watching one mother’s expectation that everything is going to be okay, and then my expectation that everything is going to be okay, but they are not the same vision and we (she and Allen) are clashing as to how to connect again,” she said.
Donoghue said she was always looking for the universal in every aspect of the story, despite the extreme nature and odd premise. “I don’t think either of us (she and the director) wanted to tell a freakish true crime story, not a bit. It takes an odd premise in order to shine light on the most ordinary universal human experiences across the whole continuum … the challenge was to find the absolute ordinary in the bizarre,” she said. Abrahamson adds, “What’s interesting about this film is that it is a sort of hopeful portrait by examining the possibilities of survival, love and thriving in a situation that begins as darkly as this one. It says ‘Well, if it’s possible to find that kind of resolution in this story then there are deep, positive and hopeful and robust things in all families, in all of those relationships.'”
A Telluride moment for sure.