The Glass Castle – A Compelling Biographical Drama (Early Review)

Another film based on a book I haven’t read so suffice it to say that I cannot speak to its authenticity but it has a great cast.

Synopsis: Based on the New York Times best-selling memoir, The Glass Castle follows the triumphant account of author Jeannette Walls’ unconventional upbringing, overcoming a difficult childhood with her dysfunctional family of nomads whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. (eOne Films)

Starring: Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, and Naomi Watts

Writers: Destin Daniel Cretton and Andrew Lanham

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Rating: 14A (Canada)/PG-13 (United States)

Running Time: 127mins

Trailer: 

For showtimes and more, check out The Glass Castle on movietimes.com.

Jeannette Walls (Larson) and her siblings had an unusual upbringing thanks to her eccentric parents Rex (Harrelson) and Rose Mary (Watts). Perhaps due to Rex’s own upbringing, the fact they were poor, or maybe a combination of the two, the Walls children never got a real education because they would constantly move to stay ahead of the authorities and various debt collectors. To compensate for a traditional education, Rex would appeal to the children’s’ imaginations in teaching them about life.

With the last point it is easy to make the comparison to a similar film, Captain Fantastic. While the adventure aspect was fun to watch but the big difference between those films was that this one didn’t have the same emotional impact. To tell the story, the film jumped back and forth in time between a successful adult Jeannette who now resents her parents and is engaged to a man named David (Max Greenfield) and the past where we got to witness the ultimate destruction of her family due to Rex’s alcoholism.

The Walls’ nomadic lifestyle couldn’t last forever and it was beginning to take its toll on the children. They were tired of moving from decrepit shack to decrepit shack and were often hungry as they could not afford much. However, they kept hope by clinging to the chance that Rex would build them all their own glass castle although it never came to be and later became a metaphor. With time came perspective and the realization that the children would have to take care of themselves since Rex and Rose Mary were too irresponsible as parents and Rex’s alcoholism was getting out of control.

The highs and lows of the Walls family and seeing the children trying to survive their growingly toxic household while trying to make something of themselves was very compelling to watch. They wanted Rose Mary to leave Rex as he and his problems were holding them all back, however, she refused. Despite Rex’s many faults, Jeannette still believed in him and they remained close but ultimately the only way that she and the others could improve their lives is to find a way to leave although that would be easier said than done with Rex. His paranoia of the world did not allow him to accept his children leaving.

The present storyline was not as compelling as the past, partly because most of the film took place in the past. Adult Jeannette was trying to make a life for herself and David in New York when her parents decided to show up and remind her of the life she was trying to forget. Her parents’ lifestyle was no longer compatible with her and David’s but she still wanted to make it work until she couldn’t. It wasn’t until tragedy struck to realize and be appreciative of what her parents did for her in their own strange way.

The acting was the best part of the film with Harrelson being the standout. In a performance that is surely to get some recognition come awards season, he showed some considerable range going from charming to caring to menacing as a man devastated by addiction. Watts was great as well as Rose Mary in a departure of a role and had chemistry with Harrelson. Larson was a little bit different as the adult Jeannette. She was good too and had decent chemistry with Harrelson and Watts but she didn’t have much to do and had a hard act to follow after the two younger actresses that played Jeannette as a child (Chandler Head) and as a teen (Ella Anderson).

Overall, this was a compelling biographical drama which may not tread new ground story-wise or quite have the emotional impact but is elevated by the performances of Brie Larson, Naomi Watts, and an award worthy Woody Harrelson.

Score: 8/10

*The Glass Castle will be released on Friday, August 11th, 2017*

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