The Glass Castle (2017)

  • Time: 127 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama
  • Director: Destin Cretton
  • Cast: Brie Larson, Naomi Watts, Woody Harrelson


A young girl comes of age in a dysfunctional family of nonconformist nomads with a mother who’s an eccentric artist and an alcoholic father who would stir the children’s imagination with hope as a distraction to their poverty.

2 reviews

  • The Glass Castle is a good movie. It has a lot to like about it, both technically and acting. My problem was that I spent too much time thinking I’d seen the various scenes in other movies. The film doesn’t have an original approach and comes off like the scripts of Captain Fantastic and The Great Santini were taped together creating a family of three girls and one boy with a domineering father.
    It is a true story based on a book written by one daughter and all of this is reinforced with pictures of the real people during the credits. I still had a “been there/ seen that” feeling. There might have been ways to give the story a different perspective, but then it probably wouldn’t have been true to the book.
    The screenplay by Destin Daniel Cretton and Andrew Lanham is very well written. It shifts between the past and the present smoothly and the movie builds very nicely. The end is predictable, but if the ending weren’t, there we would have been left with something that wasn’t explained. The director might be part of the problem because it’s Cretton again. More often than not, whenever the director is also the writer, there are problems. The same story can be told from an different angle and be just as effective. This one, no matter how well it is done, still looks and sounds like an echo.
    There is absolutely no arguing about the acting. It is excellent from everyone. Woody Harrelson plays Rex, the alcoholic father, and he is completely believable no matter what mood the character is in. Naomi Watts plays the mother, Rose Mary, who is an enabler and not as sympathetic a character but equally believable. There are three different Jeanettes depending on age, but the youngest, Chandler Head, may just be the best. Brie Larson plays the grown up Jeanette and does a very good job.
    Also in the cast is Max Greenfield as the grown Jeanette’s fiancée. He does a good job but really isn’t asked to do that much. Robin Bartlett plays Erma, Rex’s mother, and Bartlett’s performance is so good that you can see where all of Rex’s behavior has come from.
    I give The Glass Castle 4 amateur paintings out of 5. Again, it’s not the quality I find so difficult to accept, but that we have seen the dysfunctional family over and over again. It’s not that the story isn’t worth telling, but a new way to tell would have gone a long way.

  • To call New York gossip columnist Jeanette Walls’ upbringing conventional would be an understatement. Her childhood would seem straight out of a fairy tale concocted by the Brothers Grimm – nightmarish, extreme and emotionally abusive in hindsight but also a struggle that, to paraphrase one character, results in and is the cause of our beleaguered heroine’s beauty and strength of character. The Glass Castle, the film adaptation of Walls’ best-selling memoir, has moments of fascination and poignancy, but its universal truths are dampened by conventional execution, a palpable superficiality, and a sentimentality that was remarkably absent from Walls’ book.

    Memoirs, as with any adaptation, are tricky affairs. An adaptation should aim to catch the spirit rather than the letter of its source and the film’s failure to capture Walls’ essence is already its first flaw. The second, which is an unforeseeable circumstance, is having the misfortune to be released on the heels of last year’s Captain Fantastic, which also explored children being raised in an anarchic household. Where that film was predominantly told through the vagabond patriarch’s perspective, The Glass Castle is seen through the eyes of a daughter who comes to resent and be ashamed of her parents even as she can’t help but love them.

    When we first meet Jeanette (Brie Larson), she’s cultured and successful. Looking at her carefully coiffed hair and 80s-era fancy outfits, one would never guess that she was severely burned as a child because her mother Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) let her cook her own meal unsupervised so she could continue painting, or that she ate a stick of butter because she was starving. For young Jeanette and her two sisters and one brother, their peripatetic and off-the-grid lifestyle was framed as a series of adventures by their mother and father Rex (Woody Harrelson). The children may have enjoyed the games but, as they grow older, it became clearer and clearer that Rex, especially, was making promises he would never keep. Things would always be the same, though Rex would always insist that they would be different. It’s not that Rex and Rose Mary didn’t love their children, but their parenting was selfish rather than selfless. Perhaps Rex might have been less mean were it not for his drinking problem, which exacerbates his belligerent railing against the establishment, but his hands-off approach and almost blithe disregard to his children’s feelings would still be problematic under any circumstances.

    Harrelson certainly does what he can with this larger-than-life character who constantly charms or punches his way out of situations, but too often his portrayal verges on the cartoonish. He’s terrific in quieter moments, such as when a young Jeanette, disappointed that her father has spent the little money they had on drink rather than food for his starving children, asks him to stop drinking. It’s in moments like this when the film comes close to Walls’ plainspokenness and refusal to milk tears out of her situation. Director Destin Daniel Cretton, whose Short Term 12 featured Larson in her breakout role, brings his characteristic empathy to the fore, always humanising Rex and Rose Mary, never whitewashing their flaws but also, like Walls, recognising that she wouldn’t be the person she is without them.

    Yet, despite solid work from the cast and crew, The Glass Castle isn’t as engaging or as powerful as it should be. Perhaps it’s because its trajectory is so predictable, its supporting characters not as clearly defined, its truths not complicated enough, and its resolution too simple and engineered.

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