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The Glass Castle Review

By Matthew Passantino

Performances Fuel 'The Glass Castle'

"The Glass Castle," based on the bestselling memoir by Jeannette Walls, tells a unique story with universal themes. The movie shifts between flashbacks of Walls as a child, growing up on the move with her family, and her adult life as a New York gossip columnist. It's a mostly affecting adaptation.

Destin Daniel Cretton follows up his terrific "Short Term 12" with a much more accessible film, which will win over the Sunday afternoon matinee crowd. Walls' story chronicles various stages of her life, from her youngest years (played by Chandler Head), to slightly older and more aware of her situation (played wonderfully by Ella Anderson) and her teenage and then adult years (played by Oscar winner Brie Larson, who also starred in Cretton's "Short Term 12").


The Walls children spend most of their lives travelling to their next home. Led by their father Rex (Woody Harrelson) and their mother Rose Mary (Naomi Watts), the family packs up and moves whenever Rex is trying to evade bill collectors or loses a job. Every place they go is a new start, but they rarely last long enough. When the children are at their youngest, Rex is able to pass their lifestyle off as adventurous. As the kids get older, they are able to realize that it's dangerous.

"The Glass Castle" works best in the flashbacks, which show the children's evolution and maturation within their oddball family structure. The scenes with Larson, one of the finest actresses working today, offer glimpses of anger and frustration with her family, a necessary component of Walls' story. Cretton doesn't spend a whole lot of time in Walls' adult life in the first half of the film, so when we finally do in the last act, it seems almost as an afterthought. The constant shifts in time tend to lose some of their effect.

Harrelson delivers a great, big, showy performance as Rex. He is not a sympathetic character. Rex spends most of the film battling his own demons, using what little money they have on alcohol rather than providing food for his starving children. Rex is a complicated figure, one who appears to love and want to protect his family, even if his actions don't always show it. Watts, who has had a string of duds lately, gets some quiet and intimate moments as Rose Mary.

Ultimately, and most disappointingly, "The Glass Castle" opts for bring-your-tissues moments rather than staying true to the anger and confusion the entire film builds up. In a movie that felt so honest and raw, parts of the last act feel contrived and don't mesh entirely with what came before it. Catharsis is important but here it feels completely tacked on.

There's enough to like in "The Glass Castle," which compacts a lot into a little over two hours. Cretton has found his niche brining complex characters to life in a big way in small films. He'll likely get his Marvel movie some day but here's hoping he continues to tell these intimate and human stories.

What did you think?

Movie title The Glass Castle
Release year 2017
MPAA Rating PG-13
Our rating
Summary Some parts of "The Glass Castle" are stronger than others but there is plenty to like in this adaptation of Jeannette Walls' bestselling memoir.
View all articles by Matthew Passantino
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