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« The Furniture: Breaking House in Colossal | Main | Beauty vs Beast: Murder on the Orientation Express »
Monday
Aug142017

Review: The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle flashes back-and-forth between adult Jeanette Walls (Brie Larson), a gossip columnist ashamed of her oft-homeless parents (Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts), and her memories of her difficult nomadic childhood...

 The Glass Castle’s early sequences play out a bit like a B-grade Captain Fantastic (about a similarly large off-the-grid family with domineering eccentric father) but it isn’t long before the somewhat whimsical tone of many scenes becomes troubling given how much of this non-comformist parenting plays like child abuse.  

Brie just can't with her homeless parents in "The Glass Castle"

Tiny little Jeanette (Chandler Head, wonderfully affecting) is hospitalized from burns from cooking alone and handed a real knife by her father to help her feel safer afterwards (!!!) claiming that it will protect her from demons. Eventually the family settles down albeit in their own peculiar unsettled way in a house with no electricity or running water.

The film’s series of abuses become more literal via the introduction of a miserable grandmother (dependable character actress Robin Bartlett) who may or may not have sexually abused Jeanette’s father. Late in Jeanette’s teenage years Brie Larson joins the flashbacks to take over from the child actors who’ve been playing her; with each jump in age she (and, by extension, the audience) gets justifiably angrier.

It’s always tough for actors to follow-up an Oscar performance. Brie Larson’s 2017 hasn’t been all that spectacular (see also: Kong Skull Island and Free Fire) but it’s easy to see why The Glass Castle was an attractive option for her first leading role post-statue. The actress has proven herself especially adept at navigating the fault lines within families and troubled homes. She was inarguably charismatic as the adventurous teen dealing with her mother’s multiple personalities in the Showtime series The United States of Tara (2009-2011). She proved she could carry a film with the terrific foster-home drama Short Term 12 (2013) in which her character helped shelter kids who’d suffered emotional and sexual abuse. After that breakthrough she won the Oscar for Room (2015) as a young mother who’d been kidnapped as a teenager and was struggling to raise her own child in a tiny shed.

Brie & Woody in a another difficult father/daughter relationship in "Rampart"

In short Jeanette Walls is already a perfect ‘Brie Larson Role’ on paper. What’s more it gives Larson a second combat round with Woody Harrelson as her estranged screen father; they previously worked this tetchy dynamic to surprising effect in the little-seen cop drama Rampart (2011). Larson does fine work showing the cracks in Jeanette Walls glamorous adult self. She’s big-city charming but there’s a barely perceptible twang in her voice and the composure is so stiff it’s obviously its own emotional armor. Even before the flashbacks, Larson clues us in that this is a woman whose lived her whole life in utter chaos and is always guarded as a result.

That innate chemistry and skill of Larson & Harrelson are a boon to the movie but don’t quite solve its central problem. It’s all very tricky material to navigate. Watt’s artist mother never comes into focus and Harrelson is trapped within the movie’s contradictions.

Writer/director Destin Cretton (Short Term 12) gives Harrelson’s father the opening voiceover but that’s movie language for centering you within a film’s point of view. Cretton’s humanistic impulse is (admirably) towards healing but this film’s final redemption is too typically movie-full and thus cleansing. The father’s bullying ways may be questioned vocally within the movie — particularly in the teenage sequences — but his spirit lingers even once Jeanette has moved on, and not malevolently. Child abuse is a serious demon that can’t be so easily exorcized. The Glass Castle makes the shattering mistake of both romanticizing and condemning it.

Grade: C
Oscar Chances: I'd wager it's been too tepidly received for that.

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Reader Comments (11)

Free Fire is garbage - fired nothing but blanks!
But Kong: Skull Island is blockbuster filmmaking at its finest.

August 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

I think Brie Larson is a fine actress, but this movie just did not do it for me.

August 14, 2017 | Unregistered Commenternatalie

This would be a tough one to adapt. The book is interesting but overrated. And, that is easily the worst poster of the year. Ugh.

August 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCorey

I was not a fan of this one. The acting was terrific. But it was far too simplistic in its storytelling. If you've seen the trailer, you've seen the movie.

August 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMatt St.Clair

That's really a shame. I read this as part of high school English and I remember really enjoying it and how complicated/nuanced the story was (because books you're made to read in high school aren't always on that level...). I was excited for this but now I'll probably skip it.

August 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

I really loved Brie Larson in Room , as soon as I`ve seen it, I shout OSCAR WINNER ( my friends can corroborate it , lol) ....but , Free Fire is a snooze. If you enjoy watching a group of terrible people shooting at each other for an hour and a half without any depth or conclusion, then this is the movie for you, and Kong is really, really just terrible. So I`ve had high expectations towards The Glass Castle, haven`t watched it yet, but will with an open mind.

August 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEder Arcas

A C is what I gave it too. I devoured her memoir but I felt the film really romanticized the entire ordeal. It didn't translate to screen, despite the cast being really good.

August 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrittani

I watched Free Fire over the weekend and really enjoyed it, but I'd be lying if I said Larson's post-Room choices have been exciting to me. Neither Kong: Skull Island or The Glass Castle look interesting. She's a great actress so I have no doubt she'll rebound.

Who I really feel sorry for is Naomi Watts, she's had a rough year (couple of years?) with the exception of Twin Peaks.

August 14, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

I read this book the week I got my heart broken for the first time as an adult (I was 26 and stupid, and he was 25 and very closeted). After indulging myself in mimosas and losing my cell phone, I spent an entire Sunday on the toilet.

There is a passage in this book in which young Jeanette sees a joshua tree in the desert. This part will always stick with me:

“One time I saw a tiny Joshua tree sapling growing not too far from the old tree. I wanted to dig it up and replant it near our house. I told Mom that I would protect it from the wind and water it every day so that it could grow nice and tall and straight. Mom frowned at me. "You'd be destroying what makes it special," she said. "It's the Joshua tree's struggle that gives it its beauty.”

I was so looking forward to the film, but I can see that adapting it would be a struggle. Maybe it would have done better as a TV-movie?

August 16, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterjakey

Does not seem like Brie Larson is going to the final round this year. On an unrelated note, is Danielle MacDonald non-eligible for Patti Cake$? I didn't see her on your chart, wondering if it's because the film screened somewhere last year.

August 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJosh R

I did not read the book but I really enjpyed the movie. I thought Harrelson was outstanding. Larson moved me as well.

August 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R

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