REVIEW: Room

17 11 2015

It’s easy to think the most impressive cinematic achievements are the ones that transport us to new worlds of an artist’s creation. (Case in point: “Star Wars.”) But there is something to be said for those films that can take the familiar and make it feel new and radically different. I speak not of freshly presenting plot points but rather an entire way of seeing, and Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room” achieves such a feat.

The film assumes the perspective of five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) as he gains self-awareness of his place in the world. Problem is, that world is extremely socially constructed by his mother, Brie Larson’s “Ma.” She, assumed disappeared and dead, is held captive inside a shed by a vile man who eventually impregnates her. Rather than explain their dire situation to Jack, Ma decides to teach him that their room is the entirety of the world.

The tiny space, instead of feeling claustrophobic, seems limitless when filtered through a childlike curiosity and innocence. As he begins to make sense of the world around him, it inspires us to think deeply about the small assumptions make about our surroundings on a daily basis.

Emma Donoghue adapted “Room” from her own novel of the same name, and it is told by Jack in the first person. For over 300 pages, the depth and breadth of his observational eye forges quite the bond between reader and character over time. In a way, it almost does not feel fair to expect a movie to match that scope in just two short hours. Abrahamson and Donoghue do a wonderful job translating the story to the screen, though something may feel lost – or at least somewhat less substantial – to those who know the book.

Even so, everyone should expect to be bowled over by stunning performances from Tremblay and Larson. The way each struggles to assert the primacy of their own needs while caring for the other proves compelling and often gut-wrenching. This is particularly true for Larson’s Ma, who has no choice but to wrestle with the darkest of her feelings and impulse in captivity. After five years of such intensive, performative positivity, living an untruth takes its toll. “Room” celebrates when her selflessness wins out but never judges her for needing some personal space – a tricky balance beautifully managed by all involved. B+3stars





REVIEW: Frank

17 06 2014

Los Angeles Film Festival

Early on in Lenny Abrahamson’s “Frank,” Domhnall Gleeson’s character Jon poses a question that might as well be on behalf of the audience: what’s the deal with the paper-mache head that Michael Fassbender’s Frank won’t take off?  Scoot McNairy’s Don, who has been working in a band with Frank for many years, tries to explain but ultimately admits, “You’re just going to have to go with this.”

The same mantra could apply to the rest of the film, where Abrahamson and screenwriter Jon Ronson string us along for a bizarre ride that offers very little explanation for itself.  It sometimes teeters on the verge of being a Dadaist piece, but it mostly just fizzles with forced quirkiness that never connects.  The scattershot tone of the piece makes it a real head-scratcher, too.

Frank

“Frank” is not without its amusing moments, nor is it an entirely meandering film.  At times, it feels like an ultra indie-fied version of “Almost Famous” as Jon attempts to be taken seriously by Frank’s bonkers band.  He takes over for a keyboardist who attempts to drown himself, presumptively because he is so frustrated with the unnecessarily rigorous creative process Frank demands.  I’ll stop short of saying I wished I could be in his position, being carted off in an ambulance rather than being forced to endure the whims of the giant head, but it’s overall pretty brutal.

I think many of the issues I had with “Frank” arose from the relatively minor progression of the plot.  It’s not a film carried by the characters; they all feel as if they’ve escaped from some “Saturday Night Live” skit mocking the esoteric kinds of hipster bands that play at Coachella.  (Not kidding, one song in the film sung by Maggie Gyllenhaal begins, “I want to marry a lighthouse keeper.”)

The performances aren’t particularly strong either, not even from Fassbender.  We don’t get to see him emote underneath the mask, which just made me realize how crucial his face is to conveying the inner turmoil of characters.  His nondescript body movements don’t communicate well in “Frank” either, and I found my thoughts drifting to ponder whether it was in fact Fassbender at all.

I don’t want to spoil the film, but there is brief confirmation that the Oscar-nominated actor did film a scene for the film.  Though a part of me does have to wonder if maybe the real joke of “Frank” is pulling a fast one on its audience by putting someone else under the big head.  It would certainly be in line with the odd sense of humor that pervades the rest of the film.  C2stars