To be honest, The Glass Castle is not the sort of movie that I would normally go to. The stink of Oscar bait was all over the movie. You know, those movies that seem designed to hit just the right tone to win an Academy Award (usually sad story with uplifting ending). The reason I took a chance on this film is for the one and only Brie Larson (Trainwreck, Room, and Carol Danvers in the upcoming Captain Marvel movie). Larson has been impressing me since Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and the television show The United States of Tara. She doesn’t disappoint in this film, but one performance does not make for a good movie.
The Glass Castle is based on the memoir of the same name by author Jeanette Walls. The story is mostly told in two time periods. The first is the tough, nomadic childhood of Jeanette and her siblings. We come to learn that this existence is mainly attributed to Jeanette’s parents Rex (Woody Harrelson) and Rose Mary (Naomi Watts). Rex is an abusive alcoholic who can’t hold down a job and Rose Mary is his enabler. Rex plays off his self-sabotage as living a great adventure outside the restrictive norms of society.
The second time period depicted is several years later, when the siblings are fully grown and living in or around New York City. Jeanette is now a successful gossip columnist and set to marry a wealthy financial analyst. Despite their aversion to city life, Rex and Rose Mary have followed their children to the city, and are squatting in a Lower East Side building. They do not approve of Jeanette’s beau before the engagement and less so after. The situation builds to a head and all sides say things they regret before making amends.
Full disclosure, I have not read The Glass Castle so I cannot comment on how fully or faithfully the film follows the book. When I saw the film a majority of the viewers in the theater had read the book and seemed to enjoy the film. Walls definitely lead an interesting life and I can see how this sort of emotionally charged material could lend itself to being a great read (I am reminded of something like Angela’s Ashes), but as a film it just didn’t work for me. First, the movie was fairly disturbing to watch. Not that there is anything too gruesome on screen, nor is there a tremendous amount of violence. What there is, however, is a realistic depiction of how domestic violence and neglect occur.
The second problem is due to the Oscar bait qualities of the film. By the end, Jeanette has forgiven her father or at the very least come to peace with the complicated relationship she shares with her father. In a book, the author has full control of the nuances of difficult interpersonal relationships. In the film, these emotional changes happen mostly in the last few minutes and are set off with musical cues calling back to earlier scenes. Rather than leave open ambiguity about the decidedly complicated nature of abusive parents, the film ties itself up with a fairly happy ending where everyone fondly recalls their abusive father.
The Glass Castle opens this Thursday here in Philly at the Ritz 5.