Aside from Cate Blanchett's work in Blue Jasmine, to me the best female performance of 2013 came from Brie Larson in Short Term 12. The film was criminally underseen by both critics and audiences, but she'll finally get her shot at golden glory with Room, in my opinion the best film at TIFF this year.
There's no way to spin it though. Room is hard to watch. Emma Donoghue adapts her 2011 novel (click here to read Lainey’s review of the book), and it's a story that draws its inspiration from various women who were abducted, held in captivity and, often, had children as a result of rape. Think about the horrors suffered by Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight, Jaycee Lee Duggard, Elizabeth Smart or those involved in the Fritzl case. Then think about what happens after they're freed or escape their captors. That's what you see in Room, but mostly through the eyes of Jack (Jacob Tremblay), the five-year-old whose bravery leads to his mother's (Brie as Joy or "Ma") rescue.
When the film starts, you get a sense of Jack and Ma’s routine. There's spoon, there's skylight, there's bed… all these characters that Ma has created to help establish a sense of normalcy for Jack. There's also wardrobe, where Jack goes in to "sleep" when their captor, Old Nick, comes in for private time with Ma. Ma tries to tell Jack there's life outside of Room, but he doesn't believe her. He doesn't understand what she's talking about. He doesn't understand her pain or her daily torture of seven years in captivity. And when he hears about her plan(s) to escape Room,"he protests:
"Can't we do this next year, when I'm six?"
After hours of practicing, once Jack actually escapes Room, you don't exhale for about three minutes. In fact, you almost pass out. He's never tasted fresh air, he's never seen real trees… and you're as overwhelmed as he is. Will he remember the "plan" he rehearsed with Ma?
If you've seen the trailer or read the book, you know he does. Only the first half of the movie involves their time in captivity, the rest covers how well they acclimatize to reality once the media fascination dries up. Who will pay the doctor bills? And what happens when Jack wants to return to Room and the world he used to know?
You can't take your eyes off of Brie Larson in Room. She's a year older than Jennifer Lawrence, and delivers a performance that's as strong or stronger than any of JLaw's. And when you throw in her reactions (and frustrations) to Jake's wide-eyed innocence or her parents' heartbreak (played by Joan Allen and William H. Macy, respectively), she's first-class. Absolutely peerless.
For those who have been longtime fans of Brie, you know this top tier performance was in her arsenal all along. United States of Tara? 21 Jump Street? Short Term 12? Same Brie. She knows this is the role of her career, too. Check out her Instagram. It's full of movie quotes, tender moments with her costar Jacob, and selfies with Meryl Streep from Telluride. She's in with the A-List… and hopefully, the Academy too.