Film Review: The Glass Castle

Posted in Film, Reviews
By Liam Nicholls on 22 Sep 2017

Based on the bestselling memoir of Jeanette Walls’ childhood, The Glass Castle explores the fraught and fractured relationship between a father and daughter, played superbly by Woody Harrelson and Brie Larson.

The story follows Jeanette (Brie Larson), one of four flame-haired siblings living a nomadic, poverty-stricken life, dragged from shack to hovel by their free-spirited and eccentric parents Rex (Woody Harrelson) and Rose Mary (Naomi Watts). Cutting back and forth in time between her younger years and her life as a a successful gossip columnist in New York, her emotions unravel in the midst of a manicured existence with Wall Street fiancé David (Max Greenfield).

The first we see of her wild-eyed parents is scavenging in bins on the Lower East Side as Jeanette drives past in a taxi, setting the tone for the disconnected relationship she has with them, born from years of reckless abandon. Her mother is an artist, more interested in her work than the welfare of her children, brought into sharp focus early on when a young Jeanette badly burns herself cooking hotdogs on the stove. Rescued from the hospital by her family before she has properly healed, she bears the physical and emotional scars for the rest of her life as she becomes protector to her brother and sisters in the absence of conscientious parents.

The beating heart of the film is the relationship between Rex and his “Mountain Goat” Jeanette, who is played as a child with brilliant poise by Ella Anderson. Rex is the film’s force of nature; a poetic soul battling with an undercurrent of darkness and repression. A Jekyll and Hyde character, he’s charismatic, warm and wise when sober but volatile and vicious when drunk, suffocating his children while living in fear of them leaving him. His grand design of building a solar-powered glass house, which gives the film its title, connects him and Jeanette to a shared hope of a better future.

Whether it’s throwing her repeatedly into a swimming pool to teach her how to swim, or begging her for alcohol when chained to a bed while going cold turkey, Rex certainly lives up to his mantra of “You learn from living”. As Jeanette grapples with rising anger and despair as her life plays out, the film is a depiction of her journey in coming to terms with the suffering she endured and accepting the pain that has ultimately shaped who she is.

Both Harrelson, Larson and Anderson carry the story magnificently with powerful performances, but they’re held back by the jarring movements in time which hinder the development of the narrative, rather than building  it. A film full of poignant symbolism and several emotionally-charged moments, its story is one that deserves to be seen on screen, despite losing some of its power in translation.

3/5

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