The Glass Castle Review: A Personal and Emotional Masterpiece.
I have such fond memories of Short Term 12 dating as far back to the film’s premiere at SXSW where I met and interviewed the entire cast with one of my friends. Short Term 12 was a rare film that spoke to me on an emotional and personal level. I love the film and remember telling everyone to watch it prior to and after it was released into theaters and on Blu-Ray and DVD. My friends and I even started using the hashtag #BrieLarsonForBestActress throughout award season that year.
The Glass Castle is the big screen adaptation of the Jeannette Walls’ memoir of the same name. The Glass Castle reunites Brie Larson with Short Term 12 director Destin Daniel Cretton and tells the story of the Walls family. Rex (Woody Harrelson) and Rose Mary Wells (Naomi Watts) have four children and aren’t exactly what you would consider ideal parents. The Walls’ move around every few years and struggle with poverty along the way. The Glass Castle chronicles Jeannette’s life and how her families personal struggles helped to shape her into the woman that she is today.
This film was without question was one of my most anticipated films of 2017. I want to begin this review by stating that The Glass Castle is a complicated film that tells a complicated story. I feel like some are going to connect with Jeannette’s story while others will really struggle with it. Jeannette’s childhood wasn’t easy and there are several incidents throughout her life that are less than ideal. Rex and Rose Mary put Jeannette as well as her siblings at great risk more than a handful of times throughout their lives. The harsh reality is that bad things do happen even to the innocent. As much as we like to pretend they don’t happen or ignore them, they are simply part of life and define us as people.
The Glass Castle begins in New York in the year 1989 where we meet Jeannette Walls at a business dinner with her fiancé David (Max Greenfield). While driving home later that night, Jeannette looks out the car window and sees her parents digging through the trash. Upon seeing this, Jeannette is transported back to her childhood where we meet her father Rex, her mother Rose Mary, her sisters Lori and Maureen, and her only brother Brian. The Walls family isn’t your typical American family but rather one of extreme dysfunction.
Harrelson portrays Rex as a somewhat functioning alcoholic who promises big things but rarely delivers. Rex haphazardly raises his children with the mindset that you only learn from living and everything else is a lie. Harrelson’s performance is incredibly nuanced as Rex is a very complicated person. His wife Rose Mary played by Naomi Watts is a quiet dreamer who spends far too much time painting instead of worrying about the well-being of her children. Watts comes across as a supporting wife but one that is afraid of her husband. In one powerful scene, Rose Mary is chased throughout the house and almost pushed out the window by Rex. The scene demonstrates just how complicated and bipolar their relationship is.
The Glass Castle reminds us that you can’t pick your parents but you have to appreciate what you have and take the good with the bad. Rex and Rose Mary aren’t bad people but instead flawed human beings. I found it so refreshing that Destin Daniel Cretton was able to showcase this difference when bringing Jeannette’s story to life. It is so easy for a filmmaker to show complicated characters as the “bad guys” but Cretton doesn’t go that route. Instead, he paints a complicated portrait of two people who love their children but are stuck in their ways. Rex and Rose Mary put their children in harm’s way multiple times but as a viewer, you never end up hating them for it. This complicated character study comes together so marvelously due to Cretton’s commitment and unbiased passion for telling this story openly and honestly.
It is very clear throughout the film that Jeannette loves her parents but often cannot ignore a number of struggles due to her mother and father’s decisions. Since she was a child, Jeannette was often placed in situations that have resulted in bad things happening to her as well as her siblings. As a six-year-old child, Jeannette is forced to cook for herself and while doing so catches herself on fire. The fire causes Jeannette to be admitted to the hospital where she learns that she has several third-degree burns all over her stomach. This incident serves as a permanent reminder to Jeannette of her troubled upbringing.
In a later scene, Rex is determined to teach Jeannette how to swim at a local public pool. Rex continuingly picks Jeannette up and throws her into the deep end, despite being not knowing how to swim and unable to catch her breath before he picks her up and throws her in the water again. In-between these traumatic moments, there are several heartwarming scenes where we see Rex trying to be a great father to Jeannette as well as her siblings. The whole Glass Castle idea stemmed from a blue-print that Rex has created showcasing this dream house that he hopes to one day build for his family. These small moments where Rex talks about all these things he wants to do for his children are touching and remind the audience that underneath the alcohol addiction, Rex wants to be good.
Jeannette is portrayed by three different actresses and all of them deserve acknowledgment for their remarkable performance. Brie Larson portrays Jeanette as an adult. Larson has proven time after time that she can embrace any role no matter how complicated or complex the character she is playing is. Larson delivers yet another tour-de-force performance and her scenes with Harrelson can be easily defined as award worthy and some of the best of the year. Ella Anderson’s portrayal of Jeanette as a teenager is a difficult role to play but Anderson embraces the material and makes it her own. Chandler Head, who plays Jeannette as a child delivers a performance way beyond her years. She demonstrates a real sense of innocence while plays a child that has been forced to matured way before her time.
Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham, and Jeannette Walls have worked together to create a film that will spark conversation and debate. While the film won’t appeal to everyone, I do think that everyone who sees it will have something say after it. Jeannette’s life was filled with so many ups and downs but you have to admire her commitment towards her morals and family. There is something to be said when a person has the ability to look past all the negatives in life and still appreciate what you were given.
While it goes without question that Walls story might not perfectly sync up with your own life, I can almost guarantee that there will be something about her story that viewers will find relatable. I found a lot of Walls’ story to be somewhat reminiscent of my own childhood. There are several moments and themes throughout the film that connected with me on a much more deeper level than most stories do. I foresee there will be plenty of others who will have similar reactions to the film. Being able to personally relate to various situations made watching this film a very special and emotional experience. While Jeannette’s relationship with her father Rex is somewhat different than my relationship with my father, there were enough similarities that I connected with the story and became emotionally invested with Jeannette’s story from start to finish.
The Glass Castle isn’t an easy watch but is easily one of the best films of the year. While the story and the characters are complex and complicated, I must applaud everyone for their commitment to bringing Jeannette’s story to life. I cannot remember the last time that a film evoked such an emotional response from me. While I didn’t cry watching the film, I did burst into tears upon exiting the theater and driving home. Walls story conveys so many emotions that it is nearly impossible for this film to not stick with you for hours, if not, days after seeing it. Destin Destin Cretton and Brie Larson have done it again.
Scott “Movie Man” Menzel’s rating for The Glass Castle is a 9 out of 10.