- Actors: Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Max Greenfield, Sarah Snook, Naomi Watts
- Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
- Disc Format: AC-3, Color, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
- Language: English
- Subtitles: Spanish
- Region: Region A/1
- Rated: PG-13
- Studio: LIONSGATE
- Release Date: November 7, 2017
- Run Time: 127 minutes
The Glass Castle has a messy narrative, mostly because the film is based on a true story and real life is rarely as neat and tidy as we expect our entertainment to be. This makes the countless loose ends in the story understandable, even if it does not make the film any more satisfying in its shortcomings. In adapting Jeanette Walls’ memoir, director Destin Daniel Cretton and co-screenwriter Andrew Lanham introduce a number of interesting ideas and relationships, but only one really becomes fully developed in the limited run-time. One can’t help but wonder what a more balanced film would have looked like, and how the dedication of the supporting players would have been even more effective had there been more time for proper character development.
The Glass Castle refers to an imagined utopia for a non-conformist family, a fantasy palace created by their free-spirited patriarch, Rex (Woody Harrelson). As a child, Jeanette (Ella Anderson) believed in this pipe dream longer than the rest of her family, who soon realize that a majority of Rex’s dreams are merely a way of escaping the reality of their poverty-filled life. Although Rex talks a big game, able to intellectually debate the decline of humanity in the technological advances of society, the reality is that their separation from the social norms has much more to do with alcoholism and his inability to hold a job as a result. Jeanette’s mother (Naomi Watts) is just as bad, not only enabling her husband’s behavior, but also neglecting the children herself in favor of her own artistic aspirations. After an early sequence shows this neglect leading to grievous injury, it is difficult to have any sympathy for the self indulgent patterns of Jeanette’s bohemian parents, even though this seems to be the film’s primary goal.
The film jumps back and forth in time, with Brie Larson reuniting with the Short Term 12 director to play the teen and adult version of Jeanette. At a certain point in their childhood, the four siblings make the decision to find a way out of their dysfunctional family home. Years later, Jeanette is a successful city woman in 1980s New York City, although the narrative never convincingly shows us how this transition occurs. The problem when they are children is the need to constantly move in order to avoid the trouble that Rex brings on the family with his drinking and debt also makes it difficult for them to have the consistency needed for growth, but somehow Jeanette and the other children find a way to get an education and escape. The fact that this is portion of the narrative is skipped over makes it difficult to bridge the gap between young Jeanette and the sophisticated adult we are introduced to, no matter how dedicated Larson’s performance may be.
The Glass Castle is also extremely careful not to make any judgments about its characters, which allows them to be treated with more love and sympathy than they may always deserve. In this way, it shares many similarities with Captain Fantastic, another film about an untraditional father putting his children in neglectful situations to make a point about societal norms. Comparisons are made even easier considering two of the cast members play children in both of these movies. Although I can appreciate the urge to idealize the cherished memories of real individuals, there are moments within The Glass Castle that seem to justify child abuse as a mere side effect of creativity.
As with many movies based on real people, the focus in this film seems to be on the performances above all else, showcasing the actors’ ability to transform. Although Larson is an anchor in the narrative, Harrelson and Watts are a more consistent element of the film, changing little over the decades that the movie takes place. Larson’s Jeanette is a relatable character, but we never fully understand the internal struggle that pulls her back to the dysfunctional family as much as she tries to fight against it. There is also a sadly underdeveloped relationship with her fiancé, David (Max Greenfield), which only confuses our understanding of Jeanette even more. Jeanette may be the protagonist of the film, but the screenplay never allows us to peek behind the curtains of her mind in the same way it makes sure we know Rex. This feels like a problem, especially considering it was based on Jeanette’s memoirs.
The Blu-ray combo pack comes with a DVD and Digital HD copy of the film, as well as the extras on the actual disc. The highlight is a substantial making-of featurette about the adaptation process, along with an additional interview with the real Jeanette Walls. There is some repetition of information in these two features, but they accurately show where the priorities were in the filmmaking process. The additional extras include two extremely brief featurettes about music, including one about the score and another about a single song on the soundtrack. There are also a handful of deleted scenes.
Entertainment Value: 6.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7/10
Historical Significance: 6/10
Special Features: 6.5/10