THE GLASS CASTLE ˝
2017, PG-13, 127 mins.
Brie Larson as Jeannette Walls / Naomi Watts as Rose Mary Walls / Woody Harrelson as Rex Walls / Max Greenfield as David / Ella Anderson as Jeannette Walls (Age 10) / Sarah Snook as Lori Walls / Olivia Kate Rice as Lori Walls (Age 7) / Dominic Bogart as Robbie / Shree Crooks as Maureen Walls (Age 7) / Charlie Shotwell as Brian Walls (Age 7) / Sadie Sink as Lori Walls (Age 12) / Iain Armitage as Brian Walls (Age 5) / Brigette Lundy-Paine as Maureen Walls
Directed by Destin Cretton / Written by Cretton and Andrew Lanham, based on the memoir by Jeannette Walls
THE GLASS CASTLE is a new fact based drama adapted from the 2005 memoir of the same name written by Jeannette Wall, which chronicled her rather unconventional and troubling childhood. Directed by Destin Cretton (whom made a critical splash a few years back with his searing SHORT TERM 12), the film contains individual moments as powerfully raw and authentic as any that I've seen in a film this year, not to mention that its key performances are admirably moving and richly textured.
It's a shame,
though, that THE GLASS CASTLE's screenplay suffers from a rather
problematic handling not only of its underlining narrative, but also in
its dubiously misguided attempts at making one toxically dislikeable
character into a deeply sympathetic one.
The film, I think, yearns deep down to be much darker than its
otherwise sugar-coated, feel-good facade lets on, which creates a glaring
and puzzling disconnect for viewers.
THE GLASS CASTLE
introduces us to Jeannette in the late 1980s (played by Brie Larson,
re-teaming with Cretton after SHORT TERM 12), but then thrusts viewers
back roughly 25 years earlier to witness her as a child growing up
(Chandler Head and Ella Anderson respectively).
We also meet her siblings as well as well as her two seemingly well
meaning, but ultimately unfit for parenthood mother and father, Rex (Woody
Harrelson) and Rose (Naomi Watts), who frustratingly uproot the whole
family time after time from one ramshackled house to another in a
desperate effort to avoid bill collectors.
Rex is unable to secure bountiful and long lasting employment
mostly because of his alcoholism, but also because he's the type of tunnel
visioned and short sighted creep that feels that his way is the only way.
Rex certainly appears to love his family, but his frequent
intoxication makes him violently belligerent and borderline unbearable to
deal with. The ongoing
indignities that he puts his family through are, at times, excruciating to
bare, but Jeannette - via a powerful bound with her sisters and brother -
tries to persevere in hopes of one day ridding herself of this man once
and for all once she hits adulthood.
headstrong willpower and unthinkable levels of tolerance and patience,
Jeannette does manage to escape her father's unsafe and hostile home life,
making it through college and eventually to The Big Apple, where she
becomes a journalist and lives a relatively posh and extravagant lifestyle
with her affluent fiancé (Max Greenfield). Fate, alas, rears its ugly head when the taxi Jeannette is
riding one day comes in contact with what appears to be her aging parents,
both of whom are rummaging around nearby garbage cans. Discovering that Rex and Ross are penniless and living a
squater's existence in a rundown and abandoned apartment building,
Jeannette soon realizes that she will once again have to confront the very
people that made her upbringing so painful at times to endure.
THE GLASS CASTLE,
to its worthy credit, features an embarrassment of performances riches,
with the ensemble cast as a whole finding hidden layers and depth to their
respective characters that frankly are not always found in the screenplay.
Larson acclimatizes herself with characteristic poise and
conviction as her conflicted, confused, and vulnerable adult Jeannette
who's deeply unsure if she wants to readmit her parents back into her
life. Despite having the Oscar winner in the film, the real acting
standout is young Ella Anderson, who has the toughest challenge of any
performer here in portraying Jeannette at her most inquisitive, tender, and
emotionally fragile period, during which time she harbors paradoxical
feelings of admiration, fear and hatred for her father.
THE GLASS CASTLE rarely hits false emotional beats when Anderson
occupies key scenes; she's note perfect as this melancholic soul.
THE GLASS CASTLE
has Brie Larson's face front and center on its poster, but make no mistake
about it, this is Woody Harrelson's film through and through, and he
arguably gives one of the finest performances of his career as Rex, a man
of sinful indiscretions and inner demons. He sometimes has a rogue
like charm, but more often than not has a predilection towards rampant
hostility and drunken violence. One
of the strangest aspects of THE GLASS CASTLE is that Harrelson seems to
interpret this character far more differently - and compellingly - than
the film's wonky scripting. If
anything, Harrelson seems to be acknowledging that Rex may indeed be a
cunningly intelligent man, but he's also prone to acts of pure spiteful
evil against those he claims to love and protect.
The actor is in routinely mesmerizing form here.
I guess the
fundamental creative misstep that Cretton makes is in the film's awkward
and mechanical attempts at making viewers oddly identify with this
enormously destructive and dangerous lout.
Rex is, when it boils right down to it, a vindictive and careless
SOB that, for instance, nearly drowns a young Jeannette at a local
swimming pool in hopes of teaching her how to swim through the fear of
death. Other times, he lets
his lust for alcohol get in the way of providing the basic necessities of
living for his family, like food and medical care.
There are individual moments, to be fair, that do paint Rex as a
man of loving devotion and compassion, but they are few and far between
the sections of the film when he's shown as a deeply disturbed and
self-servingly corrupt man that puts his family's well being in jeopardy.
THE GLASS CASTLE takes great pains to make us see this man as a
misunderstood working class stiff that's as fallible as anyone of us, but
that treatment never once feels credible or earned.
Equally head scratching is how Watt's wife - who too has her own
share of issues - still manages to stand by this loser through thick and
thin; the screenplay never once plausibly gives us a rationale in this
Worse yet, THE
GLASS CASTLE builds towards a laughably cockamamie third act that
hurriedly concocts an enthralling and tearful sense of hopeful closure to
Jeannette's tortuous relationship with Rex.
Yet, the quick manner that the final 20 minutes or so in
the film works overtime to sway our overall opinion of Rex is startlingly
miscued. There are noble
minded and worthy themes of personal redemption and understanding that
permeates Jeannette's life - which undoubtedly her real life counterpart
must have went through - but this film version is so sanitized, so rushed,
and so dutifully in spin doctoring what should have been a long process
into a sense of emotional closure that happens relatively overnight that
it comes off as unintentionally cringe worthy. This is the
ultimate example of a bright and hopeful Hollywoodized sheen masking what
should have been an infinitely more depressing, complex and difficult
journey for a main character.
THE GLASS CASTLE
contains textured, confident and lived in performances and, at times,
achieves a level of disquieting family heartache that makes it oftentimes
painful to watch. There's an
unquestionable dramatic veracity to Cretton's film that's mournfully
undone by some amateurish writing that aims too aggressively towards cheap
sentimental payoffs. By the
time the film reached its forced final scene I felt somewhat cheated by
the whole endeavor, mostly because there's a remarkable film buried deep
beneath the contrived handling of Jeannette's story.
Much like last year's appallingly overrated CAPTAIN
FANTASTIC - another film that was obsessed with making us like a
father figure that belonged more in a straight jacket than in the arms of
his family members - THE GLASS CASTLE has legitimate things to say about
reckless child endangerment, but doesn't have the nerve to seriously
tackle them. It favors easily
digestible feel-good schmaltz over bitter tasting sobering truth.
When it boils down to it, Rex doesn't deserve the level of peculiar
hero worship this film paints him in, which ultimately makes THE GLASS
CASTLE one of the finest acted, but most insufferable conceived dramas of
2017. Much like Rex, this film is a real puzzling contradiction.