The Glass Castle (2017)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Fans of Jeannette Walls' memoirs have been waiting for this movie and with a great cast, on paper, this should draw a nice audience opening weekend.
Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson give great performances, with Larson re-teaming with writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton, who gained huge critical acclaim with 2013's Short Term 12.
Perhaps the emotional beats will play more honest and true with you then they did me. Certainly anyone touched personally by similar moments and interactions with parents and/or family could make a one-on-one connection with the story on screen.
This movie is...just...not...very...good. It looks the part, the acting is solid, but a head-scratching and unearned message of forgiveness makes you feel icky afterwards.
I really wonder what the avid supporters of the book are going to think of this. Like really curious.
Despite what is depicted on screen, the movie is instantly forgettable.
People love books. They love how immersive a good novel can be, how it can allow you to escape into another world, another life, see the human journey through a different person's experience. People love movies for largely the same reasons. Inherent in both mediums, and largely any form of art, our need for escapism cannot be understated.
Oftentimes what works in one realm, fails in another. And The Glass Castle suffers considerably in the leap from the small page to the big screen.
Co-written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, who made the exceptional 2013 drama Short Term 12, a movie which helped launch Brie Larson into the spotlight, The Glass Castle documents the story of Jeannette Walls and her upbringing, memoirs which struck a chord with readers to the tune of nearly three million copies sold and remaining on the New York Times Bestsellers List for 261 weeks.
People love this book. Walls gives a forthright, honest, and heart-wrenching personal portrayal of a family torn apart by poverty. The author, and her three siblings, were moved from location to location and raised by a mother, Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) who seemed more consumed by painting and art then parenting, and a father, Rex (Woody Harrelson), whose alcoholism, depression, and abusive behavior, left everyone reeling. Eventually the family will come to reside in their father's hometown of Welch, West Virginia, in a home lacking plumbing, heat, and basic accouterments.
Cretton clearly sees inspiration and power in Walls' words and sees the opportunity to generate huge, sweeping moments on screen that see swells of music from composer Joel P. West come in expectedly, orchestrating emotions for us. What becomes readily apparent is that Cretton and Walls seem to want to tell this story differently. I am really curious how fans of the book will respond to this.
The film doubles down on Larson and Harrelson's relationship, a fair decision since Larson's Jeannette is the author and narrator of the family struggles. Once the teenage years and adulthood creeps into the mix, Jeannette's two sisters, Lori (Sarah Snook) and Maureen (Brigette Lundy-Paine), and brother Brian (Josh Caras) become window dressing to the internal conflict Jeannette has with her past, and the potential lavish potential and future she finds with investment banker boyfriend David (Max Greenfield, generating less than zero chemistry with his Oscar-winning co-star).
Certainly this all makes sense on a surface-level and Cretton amplifies Rex's pride and failures to 11. He becomes an easy, caricatured foil for the family, although Watts' incarnation of Rose Mary finds a character so checked out, she essentially loses any credibility as anyone we really care much about.
One of the beautiful elements of Short Term 12 is how Cretton took time in letting significant characters each find their voices, among a diverse mix of characters. Set in a home for teenage foster children, and their barely adult-age mentors, theirs was a world built around relying on pain, vulnerability and tepid, tenuous trust to move forward together through each and every day.
Remnants of those same themes are present here. However Cretton, and co-writer Andrew Lanham, hammer those beats hard and narrow the focus to largely isolate Rex and Jeannette's relationship at the expense of everything else. In what feels like it would work best as more of an ensemble piece, Larson and Harrelson dominate the film. Though their performances largely work well, and with no disrespect intended to the real Rex Walls, he is written as a really terrible person.
This makes all the tearjerker grabs and emotional reaches of the final act hard to swallow, almost disingenuous at times. The Glass Castle resembles one of those well-acted, well-designed, rather small-budgeted, mid-1990s generic dramas that populated Blockbuster Video shelves. You know those movies: stained with a serious look and tone on the front cover and a flowery, meaningless synopsis written on its back.
The Glass Castle is one of those kind of movies.
As the movie often recounts journey and discovery as necessary emotional steps we all must take in life, we see it rush into forgiveness all too easily, embracing a character who has bruised, wrecked, and torn apart his family.
Perhaps the redemption the movie asks us for reads logical and sequential in Walls’ memoirs. On screen, the movie plays hollow and false, even when Larson and Harrelson take the ball and run as far as they can with two good performances.
Staring into The Glass Castle only results in glaring at a two-plus hour, middling, confounding lesson in empathy and forgiveness the movie never truly earns the right to deliver.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, Max Greenfield, Josh Caras, Sarah Snook, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Dominic Bogart, Joe Pingue.
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Written by: Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham
Adapted from: "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls
Release Date: August 11, 2017