A ‘Glass Castle’ Of Emotion (Movie Review)

There is plenty to admire in The Glass Castle, an adaptation of the 2005 bestselling memoir by Jeanette Walls. The film is well-acted with a good handle on creating a look for a story focused on a family that spent years squatting in various homes. Sadly, the film ends up feeling too manufactured, rather than real when it comes time to show the effects of neglect as well as forgiveness.



The film tracks the life of Jeanette, played as an adult by Brie Larson, the second daughter of Rex (Woody Harrelson) and Rose Mary (Naomi Watts). Rex is a smart man, as well as an anti-establishment-focused alcoholic. Rose Mary is an eccentric artist. Together, they raise Jeannette and her three siblings by moving around the country, living in poverty. It seems like a miracle that Jeanette would grow up to be a successful columnist in New York, but she does, as the film has a divided narrative to track the young life as well as some of her time as an adult.

Director Destin Daniel Cretton has followed up his indie hit Short Term 12 with this film. Once again, he has teamed with Larson to tell a story about underprivileged children grasping onto what they can to get by. The difference here is the lack of an adult support structure. While Jeannette and her siblings may have a roof over their heads (most of the time), her parents have a level of obliviousness that is hard to not see as abuse.

That should carry more weight, but for some reason, the film seems at odds with actually getting into the grittiness of the life Jeannette grew up in. Understandably, there is some pretty heavy material that factors into this unconventional upbringing. I would be okay with a film skipping over the darker details if it still meant getting the emotionally rich performances that lead to an emotional catharsis for all involved. The problem is that I didn’t buy into the version the film ended up giving me.

For all the good that’s done in the first half of The Glass Castle, around the midway point, the film seems to shift into a more melodramatic mode that runs the gauntlet of showing just how dramatic the situation can get. This aspect is separated by periodic moments where the light begins to shine a bit and an ending that is ultimately designed to let you off feeling good about where everyone ended up.

This movie is based on a memoir and Walls apparently approved of the script, but it feels like there was too much of a tradeoff for the sake of delivering what seems like a pretty typical drama. This seems especially apparent given just how narrow the focus is, compared to a book that has time to capture all involved. By having the film spend the majority of its time on the father-daughter relationship, it ends up short siding Watts’ role, along with the other siblings. They can all merely be defined by a relatively nondescript sentence, which is unfortunate.

Plenty of appreciation does go to the performances given by Larson and especially Harrelson. Larson has an excellent control over her performance, showing an older Jeannette as one who is closed off emotionally, but ready to open up in various ways when provided the right opportunity. Harrelson gets plenty to work with in a role that would be considered too showy if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s playing a real person who had plenty of stories and bravado to dispense.

Still, for all the bluster we see from Rex, the film has a tough time settling on what we should think of him. Obviously, it’s complicated, but with little added to delve further into the abuse angle, Rex feels more like a construct designed to make us feel certain ways depending on the mood of the story at that point in the run time. I like Harrelson a lot here and would be happy to see him garner recognition for his work, but I do wish the film was able to handle this material better.

Emotions will be stirred for many with The Glass Castle, as it is the kind of film designed to do as much. Cretton adds plenty in his movie’s construction to hit at the right points with the characters involved. It helps to see something natural in these performances, as the cast seems to fit together quite well. I just wish it added up to more. Instead, it all ends up feeling a little bit more comfortable than it should. This is The Glass Castle after all and a drama this fragile could have been treated with more care.


Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

1 Response to “A ‘Glass Castle’ Of Emotion (Movie Review)”

  1. Brian White

    Scott Menzel loved this one!