This is not a bad movie and I enjoyed it – if "enjoy" is the right word. I have some doubts about that, as I will explain later. I had a few problems with the film itself, quite apart from the question of "enjoyment".
It is a Canadian/Irish co-production about a kidnapping in the US. I think kidnapping is an especially cruel crime, in some ways more appalling than murder itself. So, I am not normally attracted to a film about kidnapping. This movie, however, won a Best Actress Oscar in 2016, so I thought it worthwhile to have a look at it.
Brie Larson, who got the Best Actress award, plays Joy, a girl who was kidnapped and held by her captor as a sex slave for seven years, having a son, Jack, to him along the way. The two are held in a shed, named "the room", and never see the outside world except through a skylight. Joy brings up Jack as best she can, explaining the outside world that they see on TV (their captor, Old Nick, allows them a TV) as a mixture of fantasy and fairy stories. But Joy is planning an escape and she needs to switch tack and tell Jack the outside world is not a fantasy of fairy stories, but real. Jack, as you can imagine, has great difficulty absorbing this sudden revelation.
Although the movie is based on a novel, its story bears close parallels with a number of recent, high-profile kidnap cases where victims, usually very young women, were held for some years, survived, and were eventually liberated. I thought immediately of the Jaycee Dugard case in the US, where the kidnapped girl was held for 18 years, had two daughters by her kidnapper, then was liberated in bizarre circumstances. Indeed, the night after I saw this movie, there was a documentary on TV about the Jaycee Dugard case.
The film is in two parts; the first half takes place in "the room" and shows the lives of mother and son in their confined little world punctuated by, er, “visits” from Old Nick, while the second half takes place in the outside world after mother and son have achieved freedom. In many ways, I found the two main characters' reactions to the outside world – especially those of Jack – much more interesting and challenging than their lives in "the room".
Performances are very, very good. Brie Larson as the mother certainly deserves her Oscar for a Best Actress performance. However, if there was an Oscar for Best Kid Actor, it should go to young Jacob Tremblay, the Canadian kid who plays Jack. He gives an outstanding performance. Joan Allen and William H Macy give solid performances as, respectively, Joy's mother who bonds immediately with her new grandson, and her father who just can't accept young Jack. The themes of the movie's second half are, as you would expect, quite challenging: how does one adjust to freedom after a long period of incarceration, how do you handle the media's overwhelming interest in your case (Joy's TV interview is a classic, cynical exercise in "blame the victim"), rejection (in Jack's case) by relatives, and the kidnapping's long-term effects on the victim's relatives (Joy's parents have since separated and re-partnered), to name a few.
Direction by Irishman Lenny Abrahamson is brisk and effective, while the movie is not too long: nearly 2 1/4 hours. My major problems were with the "escape" aspects of the story. The ruse used by Joy to gain freedom was so simple and obvious I don't believe a kidnapper as cunning and smart as Old Nick would fall for it. The trick is taken straight from a classic, French 19th-century adventure novel. Unsophisticated 19th-century villains might fall for it, but I don't believe street-smart 21st-century villains would. Also, upon his escape, Jack is able to give so few clues to the police, how come the latter liberate Joy seemingly within an hour or two? Even more problematic, would Old Nick have allowed Joy to survive, knowing young Jack is talking to the cops?
Despite these weaknesses in the story line, the movie certainly holds your attention. Don't see it, though, if you are feeling down and depressed. The film's subject-matter is obviously not "laugh-a-minute" and makes the viewer sad when contemplating man's inhumanity to man, or rather, to woman. Yet, as a piece of movie-making, the film holds you in deadly fascination, and the performances of all the actors involved make it well worth while.
I went with a lady companion who, because of the film's depressing topic, only gave it 3 1/4 stars. My rating is a little more generous.
My star rating (out of 5): * * * 3/4