Posts Tagged ‘Brie Larson’

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There is a temptation to write Room off before even reaching for the door handle. It’s easy to dismiss a lot of modern literature, particularly the ‘literary sensations’, as high concept but ultimately quite shallow, lacking the richness and complexity of their predecessors. However, we have to put our prejudices to one side for now and admit that Room is perhaps one sensation that really deserves the hype.

Author Emma Donoghue adapts her own bestseller while Lenny Abrahamson, most recently known for the film Frank, takes on directing duties. Room is one those films where it’s best to know as little as possible, which is how I went in. We are immediately introduced into the ‘room’, a tiny, cramped space with only one skylight and a heavily secured, code protected door. The inhabitants of the room are Ma (Brie Larson) and Jack (Jacob Tremblay), a mother and son combo locked in limbo with no way out.

The enforced isolation has clearly taken its toll on Ma, her eyes orbited by heavy rings and her tatty sportswear ghosting about her. She makes pains to see that Jack is still educated into the ways of the world; motherly lessons of cake baking and stories. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the way in which Jack has become institutionalised into the ‘room’. It is his only home, his only way of life. The film has a wider point to say about how much place and environment affects us as human beings.

As the story takes a few (un-revealable) turns, it turns into something much more profound than the struggle to survive in the room. There is a startling scene around the midpoint, where the film changes completely. It will undoubtedly go down as one of the scenes of the year, a breathtaking, cathartic, edge-of-your-seat tour de force. But then we are left with the aftermath, after all the excitement.

This is supposedly the boring part, which Hollywood doesn’t like. There must be always be an active goal to chase heroically; a dastardly villain, a damsel in distress, a dog stuck up a tree. Instead, Donoghue and Abrahamson leave us with something much more interesting and indelible: reflection. I am reminded of some of the films of Claude Chabrol, ostensibly suspense thrillers, but when the excitement fades we are left with this strange, eerie aftermath. The villain has been caught but the consequences of the event are left to catch fire.

The film would crumble without the two superlative performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. Ma is lucid, sharp, compassionate but drained, trying to make the best of a torturous situation in order to save her son. Tremblay, meanwhile, gives one of the best performances by a child actor you will ever see. The emotional complexities of a boy torn between the only world he knows and the world that his mother tells him is out there for him, is perfectly embodied by young Tremblay.

Donoghue succeeds in turning her own work into a piece of cinema, which is no mean feat. Her initial idea had the potential to be quite gimmicky, but Donoghue transforms it into something much more universal and pertinent. Lenny Abrahamson’s direction is delicate and unshowy, honing on the little details of the world that Jack sees and letting the audience see through the imaginative, hopeful eyes of a little boy.

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Destin Cretton’s second feature length, Short Term 12, arrives on a wave of positive reviews and indie film award nods from last year, though it does not quite break into the mainstream. While still positive, reviews haven’t been quite as gushing this side of the Atlantic, however this is a film worth one’s time.

Short Term 12 follows a temporary “halfway house” for troubled teenagers who are fighting their personal daemons, just as much as the barely older staff who work there. Central to all this is Grace (Brie Larson) who is tough and steely with the varying issues the kids have, as much as she is compassionate and understanding when she needs to be. Underneath it all, she’s harbouring a dark past of her own which she suppresses through her work, but this equally gives her a crucial advantage in connecting with the home’s residents.

All of these complexities are made possible by a knock-out performance from Larson, who inhabits the fully realised skin of Grace; thanks in no small part to Cretton’s excellent, witty script and clever direction. There’s an authenticity not just to Cretton’s real life past experience working in one of these homes, but in understanding humans, whether they be labelled as “underprivileged” or “crazy” or even just “normal”. Importantly, Cretton never gives in to overt sentimentality, maintaining a compassionate and realistic tone keeping the potentially heavy subject matter light and natural. Whereas many films would attempt to beat the viewer over the head with the cruelty some humans display, here there remains humour and catharsis in amongst unflinchingly uncomfortable scenes.

Those scenes centre around the film’s excellent teenage cast, most notably newcomers Kaitlyn Dever as Jayden and Keith Stanfield as Marcus who manage to convey their deeply traumatic experiences in a truly mature, subtle manner, which keeps the film from overreaching. These are expertly performed, as Jayden and Marcus find their individual ways to communicate their trauma to Grace and her partner and co-worker Mason (John Gallagher Jr.)

Gallagher is also great as the sensitive and loving Mason, who is supportive and understandably increasingly frustrated at Grace’s inability to express herself due to her suppression. However it is Larson who truly shines here, finding the perfect balance between a headstrong young woman who has such a horrific past. The chemistry between both her and Gallagher and especially Dever is palpable as Grace finds her outlet as a mother figure to Jayden.

My only real criticism of Short Term 12 is that a couple characters remain slightly underdeveloped. Nate (Rami Malek) for instance is an excellent fall guy which provides much humour from his “outsider” perspective, as someone who merely is looking to boost his CV. Yet he is also initially our focaliser, joining him on his first day at Short Term 12, only for him to be left by the way side without much progression. While this doesn’t matter too much, the story really belongs to Grace and Mason practising as parents for Jayden and Marcus respectively; it is fairly distracting.

That aside, Short Term 12 is a thoroughly enjoyable view of a troubled Los Angeles, America that would allow these kids get into this position in the first place. Thankfully, due to Cretton’s kind hand, there is still a lot of sun-drenched light in amongst the darkness.

by Adam Turner-Heffer

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