UK Release Date: 6th October 2017
Runtime: 124 minutes
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Writer: Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham, Marti Noxon
Starring: Brie Larson, Ella Anderson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, Max Greenfield, Sarah Snook, Josh Caras
Synopsis: As she prepares to marry a straight-laced Wall Street bloke, a gossip journalist must come to terms with her unconventional upbringing at the hands of an unpredictable, alcoholic father.
In 2013, Brie Larson burst on to the movie scene with Short Term 12. She’d had supporting roles in a number of studio comedies, but her performance in the indie drama really catapulted her into a career that has since led to an Oscar and a plum role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The director of that film was Destin Daniel Cretton, who has teamed up with Larson again for The Glass Castle, in which Larson is the emotional centre of a complex tale that takes in family relationships and nature versus nurture, as well as how ambition bumps up against practicality.
Jeannette Wallis (Larson) is a gossip journalist engaged to be married to Wall Street high-flyer David (Max Greenfield). One evening, she comes across her alcoholic father Rex (Woody Harrelson) and pretentious artist mother Rose (Naomi Watts) scavenging through the garbage. In flashbacks, we learn that Jeannette (Ella Anderson) and her siblings lived a nomadic lifestyle when they were children, as her parents took their kids from town to town, running from the law and seeking to save as much as possible. Rex kept his kids going with his idealistic plans to construct the eponymous dream home for his family.
The Glass Castle is an overlong film that boasts an enormous overdose of treacle. And yet, it’s an emotionally rich and incredibly entertaining character study, focused around Larson’s intense, troubled performance and Woody Harrelson’s all-consuming patriarch. Cretton’s film excels when it allows its characters to take centre stage, only to flounder when it aims for broader strokes at sentimentality. The actors possess subtlety that the script, adapted from Jeanette’s own memoir, sorely lacks.
Larson holds the film together with a performance that perfectly sells the idea of a woman who has pushed herself into a successful position, despite a bizarre upbringing. A scene in which she unleashes her more primal, unconventional side during an impromptu arm wrestling challenge is the perfect contrast between the madness of her childhood and the conformity of her adulthood. She is helped by the groundwork laid by terrific young actress Ella Anderson, who plays the younger Jeannette in flashback sequences. New Girl star Max Greenfield, too, deserves credit for his role as the slimy, but stable anchor for her new life.
The other side of the acting equation here is Woody Harrelson, who gets a considerably bigger and louder performance. He, too, is a character presented as embodying a duality. Early on, he’s a figure of fun, leading his family to experience the natural world and flying along by the seat of his pants, spouting inspirational platitudes. As time goes on, however, his sense of hope fades and he drowns his sadness in drink. Everything that initially made him warm and exciting eventually makes him a tyrant and Harrelson conveys this with just the right combination of aggression and melancholy.
The Glass Castle feels like Jeannette’s love letter to her father, who gave her a childhood of enormous highs and terrifying lows, before trying to exert further megalomaniacal influence over her adult life. It’s a love letter of real warmth, but also one that refuses to smooth off the rough edges of Harrelson’s character. Jeannette is portrayed as a woman trained to see the world in a certain way and struggling against whether she should embrace that or toss it aside. It’s a film that outstays its welcome a little, but packs a serious emotional punch in a final scene set around a dinner table that showcases Larson at her absolute best.
Pop or Poop?
Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson portray the life of a complex family in The Glass Castle, which is an emotionally resonant piece of work that elegantly weaves together two timelines. Larson finds real depth underneath her enormous 70s haircut and Harrelson turns a potential alcoholic caricature into a complex persona.
Destin Daniel Cretton does a decent enough job with the material, but the script is a little too blunt and some of the more sentimental moments are like wading through treacle. The acting, though, is enough to win the day.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.