We’ve all had a time in our life where we had the choice to dwell on the bad things or overcome them to become a better person. Throughout Jeannette Walls’ life, she was presented with moments that could either make or break her future. Living with an alcoholic father and a neglectful mother, her dedication to starting a career in journalism was to guarantee a life more promising than what she was given. The Glass Castle is based on Jeannette Walls’ memoir recounting her unconventional childhood with her parents who were more focused on freedom and independence from society rather than feeding her and her siblings. The film bounces back and forth between her life as a child and her time as a New York gossip columnist in 1989. Along the way we watch the family of six travel across the states to continue to pursue their freedom. Brie Larson stars as the adult Jeannette Walls who is remembering her past as she struggles to tell her parents about her current relationship with her fiancé. Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts play her sometimes caring but mostly neglectful parents.
What surprised me about this film is how relatable it honestly is. I grew up in a warm home with parents that tried their best to give me everything I needed. Certain aspects regarding the father and his abusive parenting skills and Naomi Watts enabling her husband hit home with me. As I was leaving the theater, I found myself quite emotional with scenes throughout and it reminded me of my own childhood. Through flashback scenes, I could understand more and more Jeannette’s frustration with her father and their relationship.
The acting in The Glass Castle is powerful. When the cast experiences traumatic moments, their acting skills really do shine. Throughout Jeanette’s life, she quickly develops into someone who is completely different than her childhood self and it was interesting to see the progress of her life from the happy upbeat 5-year-old to the haunted grown adult. As she got older, she realized more about life, the way she was raised, and learned to care for herself and not rely on her parents. The film did a terrific job capturing moments in Jeannette’s life that shaped her that were vital in her development. Brie Larson is superb in this film and she shows the moments of true depression and uncertainty in a raw and compelling way. She truly captures what it feels like to have a family that weighs you down and the effects that will have on how you view yourself and your future. Woody Harrelson is also outstanding in his role. He is having an amazing summer coming off his villainous role in War for the Planet of the Apes and his performance in The Glass Castle could also be viewed as villainous in some ways. Harrelson could snag himself an Oscar nomination with how he managed to capture the dreamer and failure that was Rex Walls.
The film really has the most punch when Jeannette is questioning her father’s decisions in life. She disagrees quite often with her father’s views on life and seeing her transform into a success is rewarding. Jeannette was a strong woman growing up and watching her stand her ground and rise above her father made for a pleasant experience. Her relationship with her father led to a few tears being shed towards the end of the film as both of them realized things about themselves and what each of them meant to each other.
One of my biggest complaints is that The Glass Castle often mistakes drama for comedy by romanticizing the relationship between the parents and their children. There were moments in the Walls children’s lives where they were exposed to abusive relationships and neglect from their mother and father. At times, the parents brush off moments of danger and abuse by somehow turning it into a light-hearted moment with laughter and unplanned life lessons for their four children.
The Glass Castle was a truly haunting film at times. The film gave us a look at an unconventional lifestyle that turned a young girl into a successful woman with memories of her past that will follow her like a dark cloud. Traumatic experiences in Jeannette’s life are downplayed with hope and lighthearted moments from her father that ultimately lead to the question, “Is he a good father?” By remembering her past, she remembers the good times and bad times and learns what family is.
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The Glass Castle runs 2 hours 7 minutes, and is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving family dysfunction, and for some language and smoking.