Life goes over the edge in "Room"

By Brooks Robards - September 21, 2006

Trying to survive in the middle class these days has gotten harder and harder. "Room," the latest film in the Forgotten Gems series at the Island Theatre in Oak Bluffs, tells the story of how a Texas housewife struggles to hold life together for herself, her husband, and her two daughters. "Room" will show at the Island next Wednesday, Sept. 27, at 7:30 pm.

Perpetually running late, Julia hands out game cards at a bingo palace and delivers phone books to make ends meet. Her migraine headaches cause her to pass out occasionally from the pressure of her hectic life style. When things get so out of control that she crashes her car, Julia decides to escape.

She steals money from the safe at her bingo job and flees from her family and responsibilities to go on an odyssey in New York City. Life there turns into one surreal experience after another. Julia drops in on a yoga group, has a fling with a man she meets in a bar, and follows a mysterious series of arrows on the street into a psychedelic dance club. Everyday logic disappears almost entirely from her world.

What is the viewer to make of these experiences of a character who is basically just trying to make a go of life? Director Kyle Henry captures the pressures that all of us experience at one point or another in our lives, takes them over the edge and transports us into the world of fantasy. Interludes of news reports help give "Room" a sense of the urgency and angst generated by a world gone crazy with terrorism and paranoia.

Cyndi Williams, who plays housewife Julia Barker, was nominated for an Independent Spirit award as Best Actress, and with good reason. She manages to seem ordinary and yet compelling enough that her crazy experiences keep the viewer enthralled.

Director Henry was nominated for the Independent Spirit's John Cassavetes Award. The film was also featured as part of the 2005 Sundance and Cannes Film Festival Director's Fortnight. Cinematographer P. J. Raval won the Haskell Wexler Award at the 2005 Woodstock Film Festival. It is easy to see why, since the film is shot with persuasive force, not an easy feat when ordinary life turns as topsy-turvy as it does in "Room."

The marketing of movies sometimes hinges on something as superficial as a title. "Room" as a title doesn't quite do it for this film, and that may explain why it hasn't had a wider distribution.

Sponsored in part by the New York Times, "Room" is part of a monthly series of films shown in 20 theatres nationwide. The series, which includes award-winning films not yet available through conventional distribution, is made possible by a new digital film projection system.

Brooks Robards is a poet, author, and former college film instructor. She frequently contributes stories on art, film, and poetry to The Times.