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Room’ unevenly adapts a powerful novel

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Room, based on the novel of the same name, is about a boy who has spent his entire life—literally, since birth—living with his mother in a sociopath’s garden shed.

Three stars

Room Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson. Rated R. Opens Friday.

Inspired by several horrific real-life cases of long-term abduction and imprisonment, Emma Donoghue’s 2010 novel Room is narrated from the point of view of a 5-year-old boy, Jack, who has spent his entire life—literally, since birth—living with his mother in a sociopath’s garden shed. As far as Jack knows, this shed, which he calls Room, is the entire world. The book reflects his limited understanding, and while the new film adaptation features voiceover narration culled from Donoghue’s prose, it can’t achieve the same sustained feeling of poignant naïveté. Instead, the movie, directed by Lenny Abrahamson, inevitably shifts the focus somewhat from Jack (newcomer Jacob Tremblay, who was eight during production) to Ma (Brie Larson) and her efforts to explain the world to Jack so they can escape their captor (Sean Bridgers).

Having previously made a film in which the title character’s head is never seen (Frank), Abrahamson would seem to be a solid choice for a story with a severely constricted view. For some reason, however, he largely squanders the location’s claustrophobic potential, shooting Room more or less like any other room. (The film’s second half, which expands the scope considerably, is stronger.) And he utterly botches what ought to be Room’s most powerfully cinematic moment: Jack’s first view of the sky, and the overwhelming sense of enormity that accompanies that revelation. Still, the scenario’s inherent pathos is off the charts, and no amount of lackluster direction can completely kill it, especially with Larson giving such a fiercely committed performance. Just try to see it in a tiny theater, if possible.

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