Thursday, December 31, 2015

Mom Makes "Room" Home (no spoiler review)

Room – the only home that five-year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) has ever known. We see it from Jack’s eyes as he introduces us to everything in the 10X10 box: bed, chair 1, chair 2, toilet, bath…wardrobe. Room and mom (Brie Larson) are this little dude’s whole world.

As a mother myself, I see more. I see a mother who is doing her best to give her boy a happy, healthy life.  She encourages his creativity with songs, drawings, and homemade toys. She gives him her undivided attention. Their daily ritual includes brushing their teeth (she counts to make sure it is long enough), exercising (she makes a game of “running track” across the little room), cooking, and cleaning together.  

Though there doesn’t appear to be anyone they have to account to, mom has set down certain rules: rules on how much TV is allowed (she explains that she was turning into a TV watching zombie before Jack came to rescue her), and rules for bed time.  Important rules.  We soon find that the bedtime rules are vital for Jack’s protection. Jack must be quietly asleep in wardrobe when mom’s unwelcome visitor arrives. Through the crack in the door, we get glimpses of that visitor through Jack’s curious eyes.  Some nights Jack falls asleep counting the squeaks in the bed. His breathing in the wardrobe seems thunderous. The tension is palpable.

But as Jack grows more curious and protective of his mother, it becomes clear that they are in peril. Mom concocts a dangerous plan to get them out of room. (I have excluded the usual link to the trailer to retain the suspense – though I felt considerable tension even on my second viewing.)

What really struck me is how real it feels. The room seems lived in. We get an intimate look at their lives. Jack isn’t the usual precocious Disney child.  Writer Emma Donoghue is obviously someone who understands kids and mothers. The boy goes from rambunctious play to a defiant tantrum.  He has meltdowns like a real kid. We see the effect of the night visits on his mother as she withdraws into herself and snaps at the boy when he gets on her last nerve. But she forces herself out of her depression when her child needs her to be attentive.

The acting is outstanding, heart-wrenchingly genuine. In an interview, the award winning actress Brie Larson spoke about her process. After in-depth research with abduction survival therapists, she isolated herself from any human communication and subsisted on a meager diet for six months. She shared how she became depressed, but then had a breakthrough moment when she recalled a childhood memory of living in a one room studio with her mom and sister. The girls only had two toys each, but it was the best time of her life because their creative mom made everything a game and gave them undivided attention. She brought that experience to the role.  Watching “Room” brought back my own memories of my mom encouraging my creativity with arts and crafts when I was four. It didn't matter how little money we had, we were always encouraged to follow our creative pursuits. That love of creativity got me through some hard, lonely years. Needless to say, I cried. Grateful to my mom for being present. Sad for all the families today that don't have the time or money to build that kind of foundation.

One of the reasons Abrahamson chose Brie Larson was because of her warmth. He knew that she could bond with 7 year old Jacob.  The authenticity of their connection makes the suspense all the more devastating.

 Emma Donoghue
“Room” is a highly moving, thrilling adaptation of the novel by Emma Donoghue. Director Lenny Abrahamson stayed true to the source (as promised) by working closely with Donoghue on the script. What is truly admirable (and what makes it a must-see Reel Inspiration film) is how Donoghue and Abrahamson succeed in making the victims heroes, while not glorifying their captor. “Room” was a collaborative effort with the director, writer, cast, and crew all working for a common vision – to make a life affirming story showing the importance and resilience of the mother-son bond.  

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Oscar news: "Room" was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director Lenny Abrahamson, Best Adaptation Emma Donoghue, and Best Actress Brie Larson.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Women Filmmakers Championed "Suffragette." (Thank goodness!)

Lately, I feel a weight on my shoulders when I attend a movie that is directed by a woman. I watch anxiously hoping to be inspired to promote the film and filmmaker - knowing how rare it is for mainstream films to be directed by a woman. (Less than 7% of studio productions this year were directed by women.) The stakes are great.  One bad movie by a woman director reinforces the view that women are not as good as men. One flop is proof that nobody wants to watch movies by women. These myths persist no matter how many big hits are helmed by women. It is not easy to change a patriarchal system that is so entrenched in our culture that many don’t believe it exists. But no progress is ever made without a struggle. So here we are.

Fortunately, “Suffragette” was developed by the female team that created the acclaimed film, “Brick Lane,” including director Sarah Gavron,writer Abi Morgan, and producers Alison Owen and Faye Ward.  I sat upright in my theater seat, poised for a prim and proper BBC style biopic. But I was immediately thrust into the brutal world of the suffragettes along with weary textile worker and mother, Maud (Carey Mulligan).  I was shocked by the unflinching depiction of her dismal work conditions and the extreme use of violence by the police to crush the women who protested.

Faye Ward (producer), Abi Morgan (Screen Writer)Alison Owen (producer) and Sarah Gavron (Director) looking at original police documents.
This gritty enactment was born out of thorough research on the first foot soldiers from the early feminist movement (concentrating on 1912-13), when the women were forced to pursue a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the increasingly violent state.

A fine piece of visual storytelling, “Suffragette” engaged my heart as well as my mind, showing just why women’s suffrage is so important to protect the basic human rights of women (and children) in a patriarchal society.  By law, women and children were men’s property.  So women were beaten, imprisoned, lost their jobs and even their children for fighting for the right to vote.  

The theme is relevant today. In this time when women’s’ rights and health care are being threatened, it is vital for women to safeguard their rights by voting.  “Suffragette” reminds us that those rights didn’t come easy.  Men didn’t gift us with the right to vote. Real women fought hard for over 70 years for the right to demand better working conditions at the polls. I hope "Suffragette" inspires us to fight for fair working conditions for everyone.

Ada from Jane Campion's "The Piano" 

I haven’t felt so moved by a movie since Jane Campion’s “The Piano.” I remember wailing, not crying – wailing, when the pianist’s finger was heartlessly hacked off by her possessive husband.  That image resonated with my artist soul that had been similarly amputated by our capitalistic society.  Both of these films moved me from a place deep within.  Both of these films were created by women.  There is something that these women filmmakers brought to these pictures - an understanding, a sensitivity that comes from a place of true understanding that you can only get from experiencing a similar struggle. 

Movie blessings, 
Jana Segal