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‘Room’ Makes an Awards Case for 8-Year-Old Jacob Tremblay

Brie Larson excels as expected but the true revelation might be her young co-star.

TELLURIDE, Colo. — It seemed like everyone at the Galaxy theater here Friday night needed a drink following the world premiere of Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room.” Based on the bestseller by Emma Donoghue (who was also tapped to adapt), it tells the story of a woman held captive for seven years, five of them spent with the son she had courtesy of the lunatic imprisoning her as a sex slave.

Suffice it to say, the first half of the film — claustrophobic, icky, stomach-churning for its depiction of a young boy who knows nothing but the small space and the make-believe imagery of a television set — is difficult to watch. The film then shifts in another direction, becoming a story about mourning, parental responsibility and (profoundly so) closure. As Variety critic Justin Chang put it in his review, it’s a film that “finds perhaps the most extreme possible metaphor for how time, regret and the end of childhood can make unknowing captives of us all.”

Actress Brie Larson has drawn raves, and deservedly so. At just 25, she has shown remarkable maturity in her performances, giving beyond-her-years depth to characters in films such as “Rampart,” “Short Term 12” and “The Gambler.” That tendency goes a long way in “Room,” but the intriguing consideration is that, abducted at 17 years old, her character here is essentially trapped in that teen bubble of world relation. It’s a remarkable line to see her walk, and for A24 — the feisty indie distributor that has unflinchingly taken on such difficult sells as Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” and Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers” — it should be wonderful fodder for an awards pitch at year’s end.

The glue that holds the narrative together, though, and gives the story a foundation from which to really explore its existential ideas is 8-year-old Jacob Tremblay. Talking awards consideration for young actors can be tricky territory, the ultimate effect sometimes owed more to a canny filmmaker’s ability to draw the work out. And no doubt Abrahamason deserves a ton of credit, not only for getting this performance from the boy but for casting him in the first place. But Tremblay takes the character from a feral understanding of the outside world through a stage of slowly absorbing it. The impact, particularly seen through the eyes of his mother, is immense, and the arc of this character is incredibly profound as a result. Dare I say he should be part of any idle supporting actor chatter this season.

Oscar-wise, A24 has been close with this and that over the last few years. There was the laughed-off James Franco bid for “Spring Breakers” (I’ll speak up and say he still should have been nominated). There was the critically acclaimed adaptation “The Spectacular Now,” which provided further evidence of Miles Teller’s talent. There was Tom Hardy’s critics’ award-winning work in driver drama “Locke.” And there was J.C. Chandor’s “A Most Violent Year,” an across-the-board marvel with particularly high notices for Jessica Chastain. But nothing has come of any of it yet.

That could change with “Room,” if response from last night’s crowd was any indication. The woman in front of me began sobbing roughly 10 minutes into the picture and didn’t let up until the credits rolled. Indeed, it’s a very emotional journey. As the audience waited rather stone-faced looking out at a torrential downpour outside the theater, waiting for a moment to make a break for it, you could just sense that this was one they would be thinking about well into the night.

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