The Glass Castle
Starring Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, Ella Anderson, Chandler Head, Max Greenfield, Sarah Snook
The Glass Castle doesn’t work well on screen under director Destin Daniel Cretton’s vision for a handful of reasons. The first and foremost is how the narrative manipulates the audience’s emotions and feelings towards the monstrous father figure. While Harrelson (Wilson) and Larson (Kong Skull Island) are astutely cast, the best parts of the film when they are on screen together, poor Watts (The Book of Henry) is significantly miscast here. The book from Jeanette Walls, the lead character, based on her difficult childhood, is a dark and difficult story, ripe with a lifetime of instances that the filmmakers struggle to fit into one movie. For 90-minutes the script and Harrelson’s dark performance successfully make us detest this father figure, yet in the last 30 minutes the narrative changes, and we are supposed to change our mind on a guy we have grown to hate. Don’t think so.
“When it comes to my family, let me do the lying,” a mature Jeanette Walls (Larson) tells David (Greenfield) her fiancé, during a fancy NYC dinner. She wasn’t always so made up, wearing elegant dresses and dining on expensive food. Jeanette, along with three other siblings moved around constantly during their childhood. Their parents Rex (Harrelson) and Rose (Watts) didn’t believe in settling down, public education or even healthcare. Rose would rather work on her paintings than cook their hungry children food, not that they had money for food because Rex used it on cigarettes and alcohol. When the children realize their parents are never going to provide the basic care needed, they make a pact to care for themselves, earning money for escape.
Larson is ferocious and it’s one of her best moments on screen.
The story is a roller coaster of emotions, but mostly anger is what the audience will feel. Two hours of sitting in your seat, fuming that parents could be this cruel and awful to their innocent children is neither entertaining nor does the bits used from the Walls story on the big screen provide us with a satisfactory redemptive conclusion, only delusion. The character of Jeanette we see performed from younger actresses Chandler Head (youngest), Ella Anderson (younger) and then Larson, certainly gives the audience what they need to understand her frustration and her mixed feelings towards her father and fiancée. Where the manipulation occurs, is withholding some of the most important moments between this daughter and father, shoving them back in our face near the end of the film, as an attempt to explain Jeanette’s sudden change of heart.
Larson gets to have Jeanette’s boiling point moment, at an engagement party where she finally says the things to her father we have been waiting hours to hear. It’s an applause worthy moment if you have stuck around that long. In this scene, Larson is ferocious and it’s one of her best moments on screen. Following her Oscar winning performance in Room, the American actress continues to be the best element of whatever project she is involved with. Her previous collaboration with director Cretton on Short Term 12 is a far more effective film than what we see presented here. Another crippling negative for The Glass Castle is abandoning plot lines almost as quickly as it introduces them: Being wanted by police, child molestation, and a variety of other scenarios they cherry pick from the novel.
Potentially one of the best films of the year is destroyed by the inability to streamline the emotional purpose of this complex and painful story.