Saturday, February 17, 2018

A24 A-to-Z: #27."Room" (2015)

Scene from Room
In case you didn't know, A24 is one of the great purveyors of modern cinema. Since 2013, the studio has found a way to innovate independent cinema by turning each release into an event. As a result, A24 A-to-Z will be an ongoing series that looks at every release from the studio by analyzing its production history, release, criticisms, and any awards attention that it might've received. Join me on a quest to explore the modern heroes of cinema by exploring every hit and miss that comes with that magnificent logo. They may not all be great, but they more than make A24 what it is and what it will hopefully continue to be for ears to come.

Released: October 16, 2015 
Release Number: 27
Directed By: Lenny Abrahamson
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers
Plot: A young boy is raised within the confines of a small shed.
Major Awards:
Golden Globes
Won: 1
-Best Actress in a Drama (Brie Larson)
Nominated: 2
-Best Drama
-Best Screenplay

Won: 1
-Best Actress (Brie Larson)
Nominated: 3
-Best Picture
-Best Director
-Best Adapted Screenplay

There was a lot of reasons for A24 to celebrate in 2015. They had closed out their third full year as a studio with films that not only received acclaim that established their brand as the great indie company, but also featured their first three Oscar-nominated films (all of which would win at least once). The third was arguably the most symbolic of what they had become. Director Lenny Abrahamson's Room was among other things the studio's first film to gain a Best Picture nomination, and the first major evidence that the studio could compete with the big names for awards glory. Room was more than A24 film. It was a gateway to the future that had been mapped out since 2013, but never fully met until this film.

The literal story began with the screenwriter Emma Donoghue, who wrote the screenplay before publishing the book. The story was based off of various stories regarding imprisoned spouses, but doesn't claim to be factually consistent to one case. She was confident that the book would be successful enough that she would be getting deals and wanted to impress buyers with a script. The issue quickly became that she disagreed with those who approached her over artistic differences. The one filmmaker that she eventually settled on was Abrahamson, who helped her rewrite the draft and set up a series of stipulations that were pleasing, especially having some artistic control over the production. She also suggested that they shoot the film in Canada, believing that it would be more cost-effective and easier for certain crew members who were from Ireland to work on the production.

The casting narrowed down the many actresses to Brie Larson, whom Abrahamson was impressed by after seeing Short Term 12. She prepared for the role by talking with various people who had been in similar cases to that of her character, Joy. She also prepared for the role by isolating herself in her home for a month in order to understand the psychology. In this time, she didn't answer calls or perform any social activity. As an introvert, she thought that it would be easy but found towards the end that she became depressed and lacked enthusiasm to do anything. She also withheld from bathing for the role to emphasize the lack of make-up she wore. When Joan Allen signed on as her mother, that role was expanded upon. The son, played by Jacob Tremblay, was picked from hundreds of tryouts and would wear a wig that he claimed was itchy. Tremblay and Larson would bond in a way that allowed for improvisation and make their dynamic more authentic.

The film was shot predominantly in chronological order over 10 weeks. It started at Pinewood Studios where they filmed on "The Room set," which was the small building that Tremblay and Larson lived in before escaping. The place was build with removable walls, though the lens of the camera was always within the walls, creating a cramped space that often had Abrahamson sit in the bathtub for comfort. This helped to create an intimacy that added to the characters' personal struggles. The walls were also covered in various personal details to make it feel more lived in, featuring references to things ranging from Leonardo DiCaprio to the "Alice in Wonderland" book. There was also an exploration of why Joy didn't wean her son from breastfeeding, with Donoghue believing that it added a closeness and protection. It was rarely discussed in the film and not given a lot of detail. 

The film premiered in September at Telluride Film Festival. It also played at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) where it won People's Choice Award. The praise was immediate and would begin its limited release in October. The film would receive a 94% on critics aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, which remains one of the studio's highest rated films. Among the reviews, there was praise for Larson and Tremblay with Kiko Martinez of San Antonio Current stating that "The relationship between Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay's characters is genuine, and the fact that the film is told through the eyes of a child gives it a sense of innocence that touches the soul without being overly sentimental." Others like Sophie Gilbert of The Atlantic praised its transition to the big screen, believing that "It's hard to think of a movie adaptation of a book that feels truer and more loyal to its source than Room." Kyle Smith of the New York Post reflected the more negative opinion when writing "Dopey as the film is on a plot level, it's equally vapid in its psychology."

But more than anything, Room was A24's biggest prestige movie to that date. It had received nominations and won for various lower branches, but Room was the third film alongside Amy and Ex Machina to receive Oscar nominations. The big difference was that it was the studio's first at what is seen as the big categories, especially Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress for Larson. She would win for acting, which was also a first for the studio that had built itself on giving roles to actors that went "against type." She was also the sixth consecutive Best Actress winner to have a role centered around mental illness. While this was the end of Room's story, save for Tremblay becoming a red carpet darling and starting a decent career, it wasn't the last for Larson. With her role being about spousal abuse, she returned to the Oscars the following year and had to present the award for Best Actor to Casey Affleck - who had sexual harassment allegations against him. Much like her character, she refused to be enthusiastic about this moment.

With their third year coming to a close, A24 had done an incredible job of going from a quaint little studio who released odd indies to a serious Oscars competitor. Room was an unorthodox drama in that it tackled hard issues with a certain charm and charisma. It was evidence however that they weren't just going to make niche films that didn't get awards. They were going to continue to win some no matter what. They were only a year off from releasing a Best Picture winner, but for now started the trend towards that dream. For now, 2015 ends on a high note, leaving plenty of wonder (such as farting corpses) in its future. Up next is a film that reunited the studio with Oscar Isaac for the third time with another DirecTV title that continued to show just how versatile their output could be.

Up Next: Mojave (2016)

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