An organic, unapologetic emotional rollercoaster. Based on the novel by the same name written by Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle provides audiences with a glimpse into the childhood, young adulthood, and then-present day life of Jeannette Walls. After watching the film and end-credit scenes of the real Jeanette and family, it is clear that the movie is supported by a screenplay that takes its inspiration from the tome-like book. From what I have read, this film successfully adapts the novel to the screen, inclusive of all the intangibles and the unseen or heard elements from the book. Furthermore, this film strikes a fantastic balance between family drama and biographical motion picture. For all that this film has going for it, it falls short of the big-budget tear-jerker that is expected of Destin Daniel Cretton after his hit Short Term 12. However, those who choose to see this gritty slice of life, who have not seen Cretton’s previous works, will likely miss just how safely objective this film is. Although you will likely identify with one or more of the characters, in general, audiences will feel that they are safely watching the events unfold from a removed vantage point. The danger in bringing a story like this one to screen is creating characters that are either too softened compared to the real people or too detestable. Fortunately, Cretton skillfully tells a story that plays as authentic as cinematically possible.
You can choose your friends and lovers, but you cannot choose your family. The Glass Castle is the film adaptation of the memoire authored by Jeannette Walls (the central character). Jeannette and her three siblings must learn to take care of themselves and survive life as their parents are free-spirited responsibility-adverse individuals who inspire and inhibit growth and education. When he was younger, their father generated a great deal of warmth, compassion, individualism, and creativity; but when he turned to drinking more heavily, he allowed them to go without food and watched over them like a warden watches over prisoners. Meanwhile, mom was completely disgusted with the idea of being a domestic so she allowed the children to care for themselves and even prepare her meals. Jeannette and her siblings faced great adversity growing up, but grew to become contributing members of society.
This is one of those films that you go into thinking that a particular actor or character is the main one, but in all reality, it is the antagonist, if you will, that is the main character. Jeannette Walls (Brie Larson) may be the author of the novel and a lead character, but it is actually Rex’s (Woody Harrelson) movie. On one hand, Rex is a brilliant father who is preparing his kids for the harsh realities of life and how to not fall victim to blending in or turning into someone you are not. On the other, he is a belligerent drunk who cares very little for the well-being of his children and even ships them off to live with his aged mother who is a child molester. Through all the struggles and setbacks, Jeannette and her siblings learn resilience and strength to face whatever life throws their way whether that is extreme poverty or molestation.
The Glass Castle relies upon switching between the present story and flashbacks to hone in on the relationship between Jeannette and her father Rex. Often times, flashbacks are used as means to lazily integrate exposition into the film or explain some other dynamic; however, much like the background story in Fried Green Tomatoes is just as interesting as the foreground story, the rotation between Jeannette’s childhood and her adulthood is performs well and creates quite the interesting dichotomy. Both have the central focus of showing the development or lack thereof in Jeannette’s and Rex’s relationship. Not that other relationships take a backseat, but there focus is squarely on Rex and Jennette. There is one particular scene in the film that deserves special attention, and that is the restaurant scene with Jeannette and Rose Many, her mom played by Naomi Watts. The degree to which this scene is pitch-perfect is almost uncanny. The tension, emotion, and cathartic release commands attention.
Ultimately, the strength of this film lies in the writing and lead cast. Only to a minor extent does the screenplay depart from the source material. And in doing so, the film is strengthened. For those who enjoy films in the vein of The Help, you will enjoy this story as well. To keep the film from being too dark, Cretton adds some feel-good moments to the film that do not attempt to sanitize the past but honors the complicated truth in Jeannette’s and Rex’s relationship.