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Of all the movies I’ve written about here, this is the one I’m most iffy about.

Wikipedia:

“An overworked, middle-aged Texas woman embezzles from her employer and abandons her family to seek out a mysterious room that has been appearing to her in visions during seizure-like attacks.”

That’s the whole movie. SPOILERS AHOY, but actually, the only spoiler is that there is nothing to spoil. THAT’s the movie.

Cydi Williams stars as Julia Barker, a harried, overworked and overweight Bingo hall employee. Her kids sass her, her husband means well but he’s of little help, and she’s got these horrible migraines in which she has visions of…a room. An empty room, like a loft, or one of the rooms being cleaned up in SESSION 9. Nothing happens in these visions, there’s no one to see, it’s just that she sees this room. Julia does what anyone would do in her position: steal a wad of cash and head for New York to find the room from her hallucinations.

Whoever put up the cash for ROOM clearly has an ax to grind with the Manhattan Visitors’ Bureau. Julia has a lame time. She (improbably) bumps into an old friend, Susan (who insists Julia call her Alex), and gets a lead on a real estate agent. Was this meeting fated, or is Julia putting things together that don’t belong as she strains for some deeper meaning in her lame-o life?

After a few bum steers she is given a flier by a couple of cross-dressers and follows some arrows to what she assumes will be her destiny. She gets somewhere and we see some of the same visuals we’ve already seen, some augmented and slowed down. And then the movie ends.

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Yeah, whatever, what’s in the damn room?

Written and directed by Kyle Henry, ROOM is a triumph of tone over substance. I’m woozy from looking at some of the reviews that call it a vertigo-inducing wacky romp through the wasteland of alienation that is America, but I remain unconvinced that this is more than film-school-level obscurity created because having a point is just too ‘mainstream.’ It feels like an assembly of a movie before the final scene is dropped in, the one that reveals what this has all been about. It’s like a plainer version of Aronofsky’s PI, going for the somber alienation. The repeated use of clips of George W. Bush is painfully cliched–yes, America is evil, invading Iraq is evil, blah blah. But none of that seems connected at all to Julia. She veers from one episode to the next, buffeted around by chance. If that’s really all Henry has to say, well, he should’ve hired someone to flesh out his script.

So why am I recommending it, with great reservations?

Julia is played by Cyndi Williams, a voice actress who doesn’t seem to have made many other movie appearances, a mystery greater than those the movie putters around. Henry doesn’t write Julia as a flawless angel, but as a normal person who’ve being worn down by life. Williams was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for this part. Why didn’t this lead to more acting gigs? I don’t know; maybe she prefers the work she’s doing now, and good for her. But this is the sort of performance that wins Oscars. Williams plays Julia as someone in panic, someone determined, and unlike so many movies as a heavy woman who manages to get laid. What she couldn’t do was rescue the shoulder-shrug of an ending.

There is also a tantalizing hint of a secret society ala THE CRYING OF LOT 49, with its Tristero and horn symbol hidden among the graffiti of our modern cities. It’s there if you’re looking for it.

You might have better luck figuring this one out. If so, drop me a line, because I like this movie a lot, but rarely recommend it to anyone. It just feels like 2/3 of a movie, and there are countless movies that seem like they might be good until the last third.

This had the potential to be an upscale Twilight Zone or even Kafka in New York. As a movie it’s just that, potential; Williams’ performance is much more than that.

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