The Glass Castle
3 out of 5 Stars
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Writers: Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham, Jeannette Walls (book)
Starring: Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts
Genre: Biography, Drama
Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic content involving family dysfunction, and for some language and smoking
Synopsis: The daughter of an eccentric artist and an alcoholic looks back on her nomadic childhood as she prepares to marry.
Review: There are different ways to view a phrase, a moment or a lifetime. Perspective isn’t fixed. It is a continually changing thing. I’m sure I’ve learned this repeatedly, but the instance that stands out for me comes from a conversation about Theodore Roethke’s poem “My Papa’s Waltz.”
I saw the violence; the traditional reading. My friend, she saw a completely different scene of a child swinging in their tipsy father’s arms. She heard laughter; I heard cries.
“The Glass Castle” is based upon Jeannette Walls’ memoir of the same name. It is the story of a nomadic family that moves from town to town as its patriarch’s alcoholism gets him into trouble. No public schooling, just books and pipe dreams punctuated by drunken tirades.
Most of the story is delivered via flashback as our protagonist, Jeannette (Brie Larson), prepares to marry a man her father would never approve of. Her memories are a mix of bleakness and wonder. Her father, Rex (Woody Harrelson), is great dreamer, a man full of facts and figures and an anger towards the established world. He’s charming and equally dangerous. Jeannette’s mother, Rose Mary (Naomi Watts), is an unrecognized artist who puts her paintings before just about everything else in her life. This leaves Jeannette and her siblings to fend for themselves.
“The Glass Castle” is a difficult watch, partly because it is hard to watch children suffer at the hands of their own parents, but also because the transitions between childhood flashbacks and the present (which is actually 1989) can be rather jarring. We’re often shown the meat and the potatoes of events without nuance and detail that would help frame the moment.
Performances are all quite good, but no one here feels like a shoe in for an Academy Award nomination.
I do like the film’s final act, where the family and the audience is given a chance to look back over how far the characters have come. How they, for the most part, conquered the mountains placed in their path. They get to see “My Papa’s Waltz” through learned eyes.
“The Glass Castle” is flawed, much like its characters, but there is more than enough to earn a recommendation for those looking for an indie-leaning drama about dysfunctional family love.