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Review: The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle
08.09.2017
7 10

PLOT: Writer Jeannette Walls (Brie Larson) reflects on her turbulent childhood as the daughter of squatters (Woody Harrelson & Naomi Watts) while preparing to marry a Wall Street exec.

REVIEW: Based on the much-loved memoir by Jeannette Walls, THE GLASS CASTLE is director Destin Daniel Cretton’s first film since SHORT TERM 12, reuniting him with that film’s star, Brie Larson. Too little seen, SHORT TERM 12 was the movie that, arguably, paved the way for Larson’s Oscar-winning turn in ROOM, and it’s interesting to see them reteam now that she’s firmly on the A-list and capable of carrying a mainstream, A-budget drama.

Slickly shot, THE GLASS HOUSE will be catnip to those who enjoyed the book, and could also be exactly the kind of big-screen comfort fare that made THE HELP such a breakout hit a few years ago, making this a canny late summer release. It’s certainly a far cry from the down-and-dirty indie style of SHORT TERM 12, with Cretton having as sure a hand at making a big-budget weepie as anyone, and while fans of his earlier film may not appreciate how nakedly sentimental and safe it is compared to that, no one can deny this is exceedingly well-made.

The craftsmanship really does deserve admiration, as Walls’s tome couldn’t have been an easy thing to put on the big screen. Given how difficult, and often unsympathetic her parents were, the danger is always that either they’d be too softened, or too detestable, with the truth likely somewhere in the middle – which is something Cretton and his performers convey well.

As much as Larson’s being heralded as the movie’s star, it’s not really her movie. THE GLASS CASTLE actually belongs to Woody Harrelson, as Wallis’s dad, and young Ella Anderson, who plays her as a pre-teen. As Rex, Harrelson’s able to convey both Rex’s iconoclastic charm, but also his rampant mean streak, which mostly manifests itself when he’s been drinking – but not always. Even sober, he’s a shockingly absent dad, even, unforgivably, leaving his kids in the care of his aged mother for a time, even though he knows his cruel mom is a child molester.

It’s a tough role for Harrelson, and one that calls on all his gifts as an actor, but he pulls it off, with the chemistry with young Anderson being the thing that makes his character at least semi-palatable. By contrast, Naomi Watts, as the flighty mom, gets short-changed a bit, with this really being the story of Jeanette and her dad, even though her own story, if you read up on the real woman, would have been just as interesting.

The bulk of the film is spent on Jeannette’s upbringing, with Larson taking over the part as she reaches her mid-teens, but the scenes depicting Wallis as a professional in NYC, with a yuppie fiancée (will Max Greenfield ever be allowed to play anything other than a variation on Schmidt from “New Girl”?) and a bad relationship with her folks don’t go over as well as the rest. Part of the reason why these sequences don’t quite measure up is that Larson, while one of the best actresses of her generation, doesn’t seem as vulnerable as the story suggests, and it’s hard to accept the big emotional moments, such as a late-scene where she gives a very clichéd impromptu speech about her dad while dining out. Larson plays the moment the best she can, but it almost seems like she knows it’s a silly bit that’s been tacked on to give the audience catharsis, and she’s not really able to sell it. The same goes for her relationship with Harrelson, as she seems too tough to really go along with his bullying. One wonders if the movie might have been better served by Sarah Snook, who plays one of her sisters, in the part.

Nevertheless, THE GLASS CASTLE is a strong, late-summer slice of life, and will likely be much-loved by fans of the book, or even just film-goers that want a big of a change from summer actioners. It’s the kind of fare we usually only see around awards time, and while I doubt it would hold up being released among a glut of other good films, in a dry period like this is comes off very well indeed.


Source: JoBlo.com

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