THE GLASS CASTLE shatters under weight of celebrated novel
The Glass Castle and bestselling book (of the same name) are the biographical telling of Jeannette Walls’ unconventional and dangerous upbringing, and her subsequent triumph as a gossip columnist for New York magazine. I haven’t read the book, but I hear it’s great. The film not so much.
Academy Award winner Brie Larson plays Walls. Woody Harrelson plays her alcoholic father Rex, and her aspiring artist mother Rose Mary is played by Naomi Watts. Throughout the film we get glimpses of Walls as an adult; it opens with her sharing stories of writing success with her husband’s (played by Max Greenfield, whose only facial expression is becoming the new Kristen Stewart) potential clients at a swanky dinner in NYC. On the way home from dinner, her cab nearly hits a homeless couple rummaging through garbage, it turns out to be Walls’ parents. The encounter sparks a flashback to her childhood, and that’s where we spend most of the film.
Her first memory is of when she was just a little girl preparing to cook herself a hotdog on the stove. Rose Mary, absorbed in her art, is imprudent of the inherent danger. The little girl’s dress is ignited and her torso gets badly burned. In the next scene we hear a father’s howl as Rex searches for his daughter in the hospital tending to her burns. Rex breaks his daughter out of the hospital and the family flee their home, regardless of the care she needs or the debt he owes.
Walls and her three siblings face continued and similar neglect throughout most of their childhood. Rex is constantly stymied by alcoholism spurred by his own childhood abuse, while Rose Mary is codependent on him, creating a volatile mixture. Harrelson and Watts overplay their characters from time-to-time – the film often resembles something of a Lifetime movie – but they effectively portray loving albeit unfit parents. The standout here is Larson who is required to play varying ages and emotional constructs of her character, and she does so with an award-worthy effort.
The film never really feels authentic. A lifetime of abusive negligence does not prevent Walls from giving into her “dying” father’s childish antics and offering that feel-good Hollywood ending. But why? With exception to one scene where Rex gifts the stars to his children and others where the family plan their “Glass Castle” home, viewers aren’t given much reason to join Jeannette in dismissing his sins. Assuming the book version offers more detail, the film spends too much time demonizing and not enough on what made these people decent parents. As it stands, the film is entirely too long, and like the “Glass Castle,” wholly incomplete.
I’d wait for the Lifetime premiere.