The Glass Castle, rated PG-13
The Glass Castle is a well-acted film based on a popular book that tells the story of a daughter’s life-long relationship with her troubled father.
This film is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12), who also writes the screenplay with Andrew Lanham, and is based on Jeannette Walls’ best-selling 2005 book The Glass Castle: A Memoir. Told from Jeannette’s perspective, this is the true story about her family on the run from the government and bill collectors, and often hiding in small towns and living in poverty. The book has had a profound impact on readers, with in excess of 6,000 user reviews on Amazon, and as I write this, it is the sixth best-selling book on the Amazon Non-Fiction chart. I recently heard of someone who re-read the book twice in one day before seeing the film. As I went into the movie, I wondered why a book and film about family dysfunction had resonated so much with people.
The film stars Oscar winner Brie Larson (Room) as the adult Jeannette Walls. Younger versions of Jeannette are portrayed by Chandler Head and Ella Anderson. Jeannette’s siblings are portrayed by Lori (Sara Snook), Brian (Josh Caras) and Maureen (Bridgette Lundy-Paine). Two-time Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson powerfully portrays Jeannette’s alcoholic father Rex, and two-time Oscar nominee Naomi Watts stars as Jeannette’s mother Rose Mary. The film’s title refers to the dream house that Rex was always promising to build for his family, with hopes for a better life.
The film is told from Jeannette’s perspective, and focuses on her relationship with her father. As the film begins, we see her as a successful New York gossip columnist who is engaged to David (Max Greenfield), a successful financial advisor. The film moves back and forth between her childhood memories of the 1960’s and 1970’s, and her life in New York in 1989. We see her shame and resentment for how she was raised. Much of the blame is given to her father, but her mother was no innocent party to the dysfunction. Everyone in the film seems to be wounded and broken.
Rex has strong opinions on racism, hypocrisy, capitalism, etc. We see how his alcoholism hurts his children. Rose Mary is a free-spirit, who is consumed with her painting. Rex and Rose Mary care deeply about independence and freedom, and are not very good parents, though in their own way they do love their children. Some pleasant times are depicted. However, they don’t provide the children a formal education, at times the children go days without food, and perhaps their biggest sin is exposing their children to Rex’s mother, their horrid grandmother Erma, played Robin Bartlett.
Harrelson delivers a powerful performance as Rex. He is depicted at times as brilliant, and other times as delusional, deceptive and mean, breaking his promises to his children, in particular Jeannette. He is always searching for the demon out there, but too late realizes that the demon is actually within himself. Larson is outstanding as the older Jeannette, who as an adult is trying to distance herself from her parents and her upbringing, making a new life in New York City. Anderson delivers a powerful performance as the young Jeannette, who loves her father, but is disappointed when he can’t overcome his alcoholism and the devastating impact it has on their family.
This is a well-acted film, but not an easy one to watch. If you are looking for a “feel good” film, this is not the one for you. Themes in the film include love, family dysfunction, sexual and other forms of abuse, alcoholism and broken promises. The film includes some violence, adult language, some swear words, abuses of God’s name, and sexuality, though nothing explicit is shown. The film may resonate with those who have also experienced dysfunctional family relationships, in particular women with their fathers, and is a story of children able to “rise above their raising”.