The Woman in the Room, by Danny Donnely. A.K.A “The one who dared to tell us more”

Spoiler alert: If you have never read the original short tale, please stop reading this review now! Come back later, please, but I can’t talk about this short movie without giving spoilers from the original tale. So, if you are the kind of person who hates spoilers, do yourself a favor and grab the book to read the original short tale before you continue in here. You won’t regret it, this is a great story, one of King’s best tale. And it is really short too, it won’t take you too long. 

Well, let’s start this review. 

The Woman in the Room is a very personal story for Stephen King. It is about a son, Johnny, who watches his mother suffering of cancer, slowly suffering, no hope of a future for her. And he decides to do something to stop her pain. It is personal for the author because his own mother died of cancer, so he probably lived that hospital routine that he described at the story. A dear friend of mine, Óscar Garrido, told me that Mr. King even cried when he first watched Frank Darabont version, the first version of this short tale for the big screen.

Now I will share with you guys that it is also a very important story for me too, it touches me deep because I also had a sick father who suffered for years before he passed away. It affects almost everyone. This is also the case with Bernd Lautenslager‘s experience with his mother before she passed away.

So we also lived that hospital routine which Mr. King describes so well at the short tale. And I also have a close relation with my mom. So every Dollar Baby that adapts this tale got me curious about it. I even used to have my favorite version of it and it was not Darabont version. I took my time before I finally watched Darabont’s “The Woman in the Room”, and yes, it is a damn good version of it. But my favorite version used to be Romanos Papaioannou’s version of it, a Greek Dollar Baby. I love that version for a lot of reasons (one day I will write about it), one of the reasons is because I worked a lot on it to translate into Portuguese to have it screened at my Dollar Baby Film Fest here in Brazil.

But now, Danny Donnely’s “The Woman in the Room” is now my personal favorite adapted version of this story and I will tell you why. It starts with the Production Design. The first thing we see at the movie is the mother’s house: her personal objects, antique furniture that makes us understand that it is an old person’s house. And, at the same minute we see a bathroom wheelchair at the living room, an usual thing to have close by if you have an ill person at home. Later we see an old TV, an old phone with an Answering Machine next to it. Seeing this objects, an older person’s belongings without an elder around gives us a feeling of absence. The Art Director nailed doing his thing and that scenario talks a lot to the audience without saying a single word. 

Speaking which, let’s talk about another thing that speaks to the audience without saying a word at this great movie: The Sound Design. Man, it was so good!!! The director Danny Donnely was also responsible for that and he also nailed at this. The first sound that caught our attention is the sound of the clock. A big clock at the living room. Yes, we do hear the movie at the TV and for those who knows Dollar Babies they will recognize one of the first easter eggs at this Dollar Baby: the movie on TV is Frank Darabont’s version of “The Woman in the Room”. It is a great homage for one of the very first dollar babies and also a way to show some respect for those filmmakers who built this path that so many others followed before the Dollar Baby Program ended up. But let me tell you about the sound of this particular clock at Danny Donnely’s movie: it gives us that feeling of urgency in a subconscious level. Yes, time is important at this story, because it is running out. It is running out not only for one of the characters, but also for Johnny,  our protagonist. Because if he want to do something about his mother’s condition he got to do it soon and he knows it.

Another important sound at the movie is the phone ring: every time the phone rings it interrupts something. It might interrupts the middle of a line of a character at the TV or even Johnny’s silence, when he is obviously trying to think about his dilemma. And most important, when it rings this sound becomes something else, it becomes “The Mother“. It means that she is calling from the hospital (almost every time), it means that the mother is entering the room, entering the story. Every time the phone rings we immediately think that it is his mother calling from the hospital. And that is so powerful and important, very important further ahead at the story. 

Another professional that deserves our applause at this movie is Aimee Theresa, the Screenwriter: I do understand that she was not the only responsible for the choices and the changes from the original tale that  they did at the screenplay, but only a great screenwriter could write such a good, fluid and touching screenplay. This is the kind of screenplay that makes me, as a writer, thinks “God, I wish I was as good as this writer”. Aimee, your screenplay is amazing!

One of the things that first got my attention at this version was Johnny’s mood: he is tired, of course, suffering with the dilemma he is facing, obviously. But this is not new, at every Dollar Baby version of this story we see the same,  it is the essence of the character. But now, at this version , Johnny is also kind of moody and he is almost aggressive at some moments. And that is understanding, he is going through a lot! For instance, while he was talking to his sister, we can feel  that Johnny is a little resentful of her. And that is also something that I can relate to. Because only if you had the experience of taking care of someone you love, you can understand that at some point this can fell overwhelming. You might become kind of moody too. And if you have brothers or sisters, but you are the only son who still lives with the ill parent, well, you can also become kind of resentful sometimes. At one point you might think that you are the only one who gives attention for that parent, you might feel like that you are the only one who really cares. And I could see that in Johnny at this Dollar Baby. Of course it has a lot of the actor’s work, but I could also see that it was the way that this Johnny was written. 

Another change Aimee has at her screenplay is when Johnny shares with us a memory of his mom. From all the versions of “The Woman in the Room” I could watch so far, none of them had a scene with an old memory of Johnny and his mom. Not a single one adapted what King wrote about it. At King’s story he gives us a bittersweet memory of Johnny with his mom, where she is also overwhelming by the responsibility of taking care of a ill parent. And Johnny’s mom hits him at this memory. I think none of the filmmakers adapted that scene because they were afraid that the audience might have mixed feelings about the mother after that and since it is a short movie there would not have enough time to show another side of the character. This Dollar Baby allowed itself to have a scene with a memory, but a new one. And that was so good. At this version, Johnny and his mom are playing cards. His mother is worried about Johnny, worried about how he spends too much time being alone. She says that he should be ranging around with his friends. But Johnny says he is where he wants to be. That scene makes us believe at their bound. That scene makes us fell this bound and at the same time it makes us care even more about the mother. She was a really nice old lady.

Last but not least, the dialogue between Johnny and the doctor. King’s version also has this dialogue and it is so important to have it, gives the audience the understanding of the gravity of the mother’s condition. Both actors were so good at this scene.

Aimee, I applauded you. All the changes you wrote that differs this version from the original story are welcome. Even THE change, but I won’t talk about this one, because I won’ t give spoilers about the Dollar Baby. The ones I already gave about the original tale were enough.

The cast is also something that we need to be talk about: what a great cast. The 2 main actors gave a class of how to act. I mean it. Eric Crist was a perfect Johnny, a moody Johnny, a tired Johnny and a Johnny who was suffering a lot with his dilemma. The way he stares the pill bottle like it was a bad thing but also a necessary evil, it makes us wonder why until we get it. Then Johnny became aggressive at the phone with his sister, but he is the same guy who was tired of answering his mom a thousand times a day at the phone but still said he loved her at the end of the call. Eric Crist showed us many layers of this character in a fluid way, sometimes at the same scene. And the way he acted when his Johnny reacts after he gives his mom the damn pills, man… That was a powerful acting.

And Susan Moses too, the Mother, she also showed us probably her best acting so far. She is a damn good actress. She played her role in a way I have never seen other actress playing this role before. In other Dollar Babies we always see a fragile mother or a woman doped on medicine or a woman weakened by illness (of course, the character has cancer and she is dying), but this was not how Susan Moses played her role at this Dollar Baby. Her character was a strong woman, we can even understand how strong she used be before the illness by the way she talks now, because there is still strength at her voice. Yes, sometimes she is begging for her son to take her home, but not in a whining way. When she is begging at the phone it sounds more like she is demanding to go home. And sometimes she breaks down, of course, she cries, but we still can’t see her as a fragile old lady even then. Even when the character is at her worst moments we can still see a strong woman,  someone who can’t take it anymore. At her last scene, she is not demanding or begging to go home, she just says she want to go home. That is when the word “Home” takes another meaning and Johnny finally found his straight to do what he understands he needs to do.

The perfect finale: most of Dollar Babies based upon this story ends at the hospital room. Most of them thinks that the story ends in there and it does makes sense. And they are all good movies. But, if you think about it, it does make sense to show more of Johnny’s story too. Because it is not just a story about a bound between mother and son. It is not just about euthanasia, but it is also about if a son can do it and most important: how is he going to feel about it later. Stephen King opens his story asking “Can he do it?”. Later King tells us that Johnny went home and felt “nothing“. King says that Jonnhy was not either sad or happy, not feeling either relieved or guilt. Johnny just watches his TV. And it is a good ending. The readers can think whatever they want. I think that maybe Johnny will think about it later, I think that he will allow himself to feel the weight of what he did later. But yes, I would like to see/read it. And Danny Donnely showed me. 

It was a perfect ending. So well written, so well directed and a damn good acting of Eric Crist. Danny Donnely and Aimee Theresa dared to show us more of this story and it is unforgettable. They did for this story what some great filmmakers did in the past, they made an even better finale for it! Danny and Aimee did the same what Mike Flanagan did for Doctor Sleep. They did the same what Darabont did for The Mist. I think that King himself would agree with it. 

At this version we can follow Johnny home, we can see the way he handle his feelings, we can see how he can’t stand himself after it. The way he punish himself with the drinking. And then, the last scene… Man, I would love to talk about this last scene, but I can’t. I will just say this: if you have the chance to watch this Dollar Baby, man, do it! Just do it!

The last thing I will write about Danny Donnely’s “The Woman in the Room” is the soundtrack. It is a perfect soundtrack. Most of it is instrumental music, played at the right moments and respecting the moments that really needed the silence. But one song in particular is the one I most want to talk about it : “Please don’t go” , played by  “KC & The Sunshine Band“. This is an old song that maybe most of us know it. I remembered it, this version and the “Double You” version of it. And although it is a song that talks about “Romantic Love” it can also be understand as any other kind of love, in this case a love of a son for his mother. Because the lyrics doesn’t talk about physical relationship, it talks about love, just love. And the director of this Dollar Baby choose to play this song just after Johnny gave the last pill for his mom and he leaves the room still looking at her. And every single word of the lyrics makes so much sense for this moment. If you don’t believe me, please go hear it for yourself, go to Spotify or YouTube, I will wait.

Perfect, right? This Dollar Baby movie now will make me always think about this song when I think about this scene. And also, I will always remember this Dollar Baby when in the future I hear any version of this song. It will be like when I hear “Cheek to cheek” and think about “The Green Mile“. Or any song of The Ramones I hear and I automatically think about Stephen King because I know he loves it and then I think about the “Pet Cemetery” song and the damn movie. Musical memory is a powerful thing and Danny Donnely’s “The Woman in the Room” created a new musical memory for me. Thank you, Danny.

The Dollar Baby’s grade? We give Danny Donnely’s “The Woman in the Room” 5 fingers from the dead guy’s hand. And also one of his toes!!!!! 

Thank you , Constant Readers, see you next time.

Leonardo Granado

You may also like...

1 Response

  1. Nicholas Peetros says:

    Thank you so very much for your review! The only thing I regret is not being able to make more Dollar Babies…God bless Stephen King for this opportunity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.