Review: The Glass Castle

Starring: Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, Max Greenfield, Ella Anderson, Sadie Sink, Brigette Lundy-Paine, John Caras, Sarah Snook

Directed by: Destin Daniel Cretton

Based on a memoir I had never heard of before, The Glass Castle actually comes under one of my favourite sub-category of the family-drama genre – the dysfunctional family. And the Walls fit that label too well.

The film opens in the late 80s, where Jeanette Walls (Brie Larson) has established herself in New York as successful gossip columnist, engaged to a financial analyst (Max Greenfield), also doing pretty well for himself, but a series of flashbacks show how far she has come from the life of her childhood. The flashbacks are where the story really is, and it starts with a major life-defining moment for Walls, which also shows us exactly the attitude to parenting and life that her parents (Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts) had when she was eight years-old, and they don’t ever really move on from it.

I feel like most reviews will talk about Brie Larson, and how good she is (I haven’t read any, so they might not), and I would have to agree; she is extremely believable and engaging as the older Jeanette, but the young actors really made the film work for me, particularly the two older ones, Jeanette and Lori (Ella Anderson and Sadie Sink). If I hadn’t been able to connect with them and really feel for them as children, I probably wouldn’t have cared very much for them as adults. I was unsure about how I felt about Naomi Watts’ performance until the closing credits showed us the real Rose Mary Walls, where you can really see the characters and habits that Naomi Watts picked and used in her own performance. The other surprise that came with the closing credits is how charismatic Rex Walls, Jeanette’s father came across in his photos, which then led me to question the casting of Woody Harrelson. He’s very good in the role, in that he’s believably frustrating as Rex. But moments in the film where Jeanette recalls what were meant to be good memories, still have a dark cloud of serious doubt over them, which I think come from us still seeing the alcoholic, troubled Rex, not the loving and caring father you’d want to remember. Maybe Woody Harrelson just plays Rex too well.

As far as biopics and memoir adaptations go, the narrative follows a fairly predictable, uncomplicated path. Which is fine – but the lack of pace and energy means the film is at risk of losing the attention of its audience. Certain pivotal, emotional scenes left me wanting a little more, in terms of keeping me engaged, which the flashbacks have enough drama and energy to do, but for some reason the “present day” scenes really lack. The two timelines have contrasting moods, which at times is a welcome break, and at times, just dull.

I could pick all sorts of flaws and negatives out of The Glass Castle, but there’s a lot to admire as well, making it a worthwhile watch, whether you’re aware of the source material or not. I don’t see it making Brie Larson (or the others) the centre of much awards attention later in the year, but till awards season is in full swing, it is perfectly acceptable Oscar-bait type fare.

The Glass Castle is already out in the US, and releasing on 6th October 2017 in the UK.

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