The Glass Castle
dir Destin Daniel Cretton
prd Ken Kao, Gil Netter
scr Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham
with Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, Ella Anderson, Max Greenfield, Sarah Snook, Josh Caras, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Robin Bartlett, Joe Pingue, AJ Henderson, Dominic Bogart
release US 11.Aug.17, UK 6.Oct.17
17/US Lionsgate 2h07
The Glass Castle
Meet the parent: Greenfield, Larson and Harrelson

larson watts snook
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Glass Castle Based on the memoir by Jeanette Walls, this film traces a lifetime of outrageous family chaos with an intriguingly clear eye. Only occasionally drifting into melodrama, the film maintains a nice balance between its cinematic structure and the gritty realism of its characters and themes. And it's anchored by openly emotional performances that continually catch the audience by surprise.

In 1989 New York, Jeanette (Larson) lies to her prospective in-laws about her parents Rex and Rose Mary (Harrelson and Watts), not wanting to admit that they're squatters. But she's also aware that they will not approve of her fiance David (Greenfield), a financial analyst, because they are vocal opponents of both governments and big business. Her three siblings (Snook, Caras and Lundy-Paine) support her in this frustrating situation. And after yet another moment of Rex's impulsive violence, she thinks it might be a better idea to cut her ties with her parents altogether.

The title refers to the dream house Rex was planning to build throughout their nomadic childhood. But his searing intelligence put him at odds with the world, and created no end of problems with his wife and children. The film features extensive flashbacks that cover Jeanette's childhood and adolescence, highlighting a series of momentous events that are both deliriously happy and darkly harrowing. Although the depiction of Rex's mother (Bartlett) is perhaps somewhat on-the-nose, offering a rather simplistic excuse for his bad behaviour.

Larson anchors the film very nicely both in Jeanette's 1989 present and her late-teen past (Ella Anderson and Chandler Head play younger versions). It's quite an emotive role, requiring Larson to express big feelings, some of which seem a little abrupt, most notably in her relationship with Greenfield's super-nice David. Meanwhile, Harrelson and Watts have much more colourful roles as smart, artistic parents who are so caught up in their own thoughts and feelings that they struggle to engage with their kids on a meaningful level.

Everyone on-screen is terrific, offering gutsy performances that wring out every bit of joy and pain, although all of this Big Acting can make film rather exhausting. Frankly, the strongest, most telling scenes are the more light-hearted moments between these fragmented family members, where we can see their deeper personalities and understand their inter-relations better than when they're shouting or punching in frustration. Because these scenes add a complexity to the themes that undermines the script's preachier tendencies.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 13.Sep.17

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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall