Director: Destin Cretton
Cast: Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Sarah Snook, Naomi Watts, Max Greenfield
Running: 127 mins
Release: 6th October 2017
Films are made to make their audience feel a certain way, this could be happy, sad, relieved, shocked, scared – the list could go on. Films are also a good source of cathartic release, they make you cry, they make you laugh, they have you sat on the edge of your seat with anticipation.
THE GLASS CASTLE won’t make you feel this way. You won’t leave the cinema feeling happy, sad, relieved, shocked or scared but rather, underwhelmed.
Based on Jeanette Walls’ memoir of the same name, THE GLASS CASTLE tells the story of Walls’ childhood and being raised by her eccentric mother and alcoholic father. The film jumps backwards and forwards in time from Jeanette’s childhood in the 1960’s to the 1980’s when Jeanette (Brie Larson) writes the successful gossip column for the New York magazine. Jeanette tries to escape her turbulent upbringing when she moves to New York but she’s followed by her parents Rex (Woody Harrelson) and Rose Mary (Naomi Watts).
Jeannette and her family live a vagabond lifestyle, Rex and Rose are often shown to be pre-occupied with their own personal desires – Rose with her paintings and Rex with his designs for the glass castle, a dream home for his family. Jeanette and her siblings are often left to fend for themselves. The opening scene shows a young Jeanette (Chandler Head) burn herself on the stove as she tries to cook herself dinner. Director Destin Cretton then attempts to show how eccentric Jeanette’s parents are when they break her out of hospital.
It’s a scene that’s supposed to make the audience laugh, Jeanette’s younger brother Brian (Iain Armitage) acts as a distraction, he cries on the hospital floor whilst Rex runs through the hospital for Jeanette and Rose waits outside in the getaway car. Cretton tries hard to emulate the success of CAPTAIN FANTASTIC with the unorthodox life style and parenting but the scene falls flat when we’re shown the damage to a young Jeanette’s skin.
What made CAPTAIN FANTASTIC a great film is that it critiqued as well as congratulated the father figure. Cretton struggles to do this in THE GLASS CASTLE, whilst Harrelson’s portrayal of the character is excellent, his attempts at becoming the anti-hero are limited to a screenplay which doesn’t build enough sympathy or understanding for a complicated character. For instance, key information about Rex is only briefly given to us in passing conversation and moments of grand gestures are easily forgettable.
The narrative plods along through Jeanette’s childhood, her family continue moving around and the glass castle remains a dream on paper. The children start to dig the foundations but it later turns into a rubbish pit. Symbolic or a cliché, it’s hard to tell but it’s from this moment that Jeanette’s desire to move to New York and become a writer is centre focus. This is neatly contrasted with Jeanette’s current life in the 1980’s. She’s living in New York engaged to a wealthy man named David (Max Greenfield), he is easily forgettable and acts as a contrast to Rex but it feels too obvious and clumsy.
The narrative picks up when we are shown Jeanette as an adult and she tries hiding her childhood from the socialite circles she now mixes with, but even this is ruined with the Hollywood classic – a family argument in a public place. Ultimately, THE GLASS CASTLE falls prey to putting Rex at the centre of the narrative, his destructive ways are so tiresome that it hinders any emotional impact on the audience. When you finally reach the end of the film, you will do so without shedding a single tear.