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Telluride: Brie Larson, Lenny Abrahamson Discuss Why ‘Room’ Is ‘Odd’

After an enthusiastic Telluride screening of “Room” on Saturday morning, Emma Donoghue admitted her novel and screen adaptation are based on “a really odd premise, but we wanted to shine a light on a universal experience … to find the ordinary in the bizarre.”

It’s the tale of a woman who’s been in one-room captivity for seven years, since she was 17, and her 5-year-old son. In a Q&A following the screening, the six participants talked about the various interpretations of the film.

Director Lenny Abrahamson said it’s fundamentally a love story between a mother and son. Brie Larson, who got one of the morning’s several standing ovations, said, “It’s a movie that deals a lot with expectations — and expectations that can never be met.” Supporting actress Joan Allen said she concentrated on the damage to so many people who are trying to pick up the pieces after the abduction of the girl. And the panel’s moderator, filmmaker Nicholas O’Neill, said some scenes are “almost a dark parody of all families.”

Abrahamson said he and Donoghue worked to rethink the novel; that’s especially true in the second half of the film, with more focus on family and less on the son’s social interaction. “We shifted things to avoid making it a long coda,” said the director. “But it’s still about freedom.”

It was the second screening of the film (distributed by A24 in the U.S.) at Telluride, with very positive audience reaction at both. At the Saturday-morning edition at the Palm Theatre, 8-year-old Jacob Tremblay didn’t talk much, but accepted huge applause and the praise of his director.

Abrahamson said the goal is to get any child performer to behave naturally on camera, but Tremblay went beyond that: “This is an actor’s performance that demands great subtlety of emotion.” He said the film rests on the actor’s shoulders. Tremblay responded gravely, “I’ve worked with lots of directors (pause for laughs) — and he’s a really good one.”

And special kudos to casting director Fiona Weir.

After the Q&A, two women were in the lobby debating who is Oscar’s best-actor front-runner at this point: Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp or Tremblay. In a separate piece, Variety‘s Kristopher Tapley assessed that Tremblay would probably be considered in supporting, which seems more likely. But, either way, it’s a good sign for the film, in terms of awards and audiences.

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