Quick Hit: Beautifully shot and wonderfully acted, this film doesn’t dive deep enough to be a masterpiece and comes out more like a Paint-By-Numbers piece of art.
Color me surprised that I went into an adaptation of a movie based on a book knowing essentially nothing about the book. I didn’t even know Woody Harrelson was in it until a couple of hours before. So forgive me for giving a brief synopsis prior to launching into a review of a film that is actually quite enjoyable. Essentially, the story is the tale of Jeannette Walls (Brie Larson) and her family; in particular, the story focuses on her relationship with her father Rex (Woody Harrelson). Rex is a dreamer but a drunk, an intelligent man whose inner demons lead him done path after path that keep him from doing what needs to be done. Primarily told in flashback to the 60s and 80s, the story is based on author Jeanette Walls actual life.
Woody Harrelson nails Rex. He perfectly portrays the essence of a character that needs to drink (it’s something he revisits in his roles repeatedly), but that is also perfectly capable of holding his own in a room full of intellectuals. There is rarely someone better at pivoting between these two extremes so seamlessly. His perspective on life, while flawed, does hold some merit: in a particularly rough scene where Rex is trying to teach Jeannette how to swim, he repeatedly throws her into water over her head after pulling her off the wall. Eventually, she does swim, but the camera makes it clear that this style of parenting is not to be condoned.
While I may have my own opinions on that, it’s obvious that there is so much more that goes farther past the line of acceptable parenting. Rex is abusive, frequently chooses booze over purchasing food, to the point where his children pour some sugar on butter to feed the youngest of the bunch. It’s in these scenes that the movie is its most thrilling – we don’t need nearly as many scenes of Rex describing the chaos of the universe being echoed in a flame – but I understand the need to balance the tone of the film. However, a better film would have skewed us less towards these happy moments and more on the moments that cause Jeannette to eventually leave. In particular, the need to skew over the moment where they discover just exactly what Rex must have went through as a child was glossed over to the point where it lost meaning. It’s despicable, and that is probably the reason why – you have to maintain the PG-13 rating after all.
It’s obvious that Brie Larson is a terrific actress. Frequently given shots where the screen focuses solely on her, she easily portrays the emotions that are needed to further the story. Often times, that’s all that’s needed in a script that is a bit weaker on the scenes of adulthood. Larson does some of her best work in a scene where her fiancée and father arm wrestle. I’ll leave you to experience that on your own.
The best and worst thing about the film (can you tell I have mixed feelings here?) is the decision to essentially sideline all of the supporting players. Though Naomi Watts gives a decent performance as Rose, Jeanette’s mother, there are very few scenes that develop her character past the fact that she likes to paint and loves Rex. Likewise for Jeanette’s siblings, who are given varying dress styles that almost seem to be so we can remember who is who.
The Glass Castle is a good movie, but not a perfect one. With a more ambitious soundtrack and a more ambitious director, we could have gotten a time capsule into a family’s life. Instead, we get a film that is solid and watchable, with performances that all can enjoy. I’m giving The Glass Castle a “B”.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"