The Glass Castle, based on New York journalist Jeannette Walls’s memoirs, is a look at one woman’s troubled childhood as she and her siblings are brought up by their deeply dysfunctional parents.
The biographical drama opens with a grown-up Jeannette (Brie Larson) returning home after work in New York. Lurching around in front of the taxi she’s in are her parents – Rex Walls (Woody Harrelson) and Rose Mary Walls (Naomi Watts). What follows are flashbacks revealing the extent of her love-hate relationship with her now-homeless parents.
Lovers of the book will be disappointed at Rex, who is a diminished character here compared to the source material. Despite this, Harrelson does a great job with what he’s got. He plays both the caring father and the mindless drunk with ease.
Equally compelling is the acting of the teenaged Jeannette (Ella Anderson), whose scenes as the responsible one of the family allow her to bring more depth to the character than Larson is able to. Having said that, Larson does a good job, as does Watts, and the cast of young actors who play Jeannette’s siblings.
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The Glass Castle will be a compelling watch for those who haven’t read the memoirs. The story is, at times, a bit of an emotional minefield, and the audience might find it hard to sympathise with the main character, and her ambivalent feelings towards her dad.
The ending of the film is strangely anticlimactic – but at the same time, it seems fitting given all that has passed leading up to that moment. For all the strengths of the principle players, though, more effort could have gone into fleshing out the characters of Rose Mary, and Jeannette’s siblings. Still, on the whole, The Glass Castle is a moving film that touches on the mixed emotions a father – that wants to do his best by his family but often falls short of expectations – can illicit in his children.
Edited by Ginny Wong