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The Glass Castle – Movie Review

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The Glass Castle – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy eOne Films

It’s difficult to watch The Glass Castle and not find oneself comparing it to last year’s Sundance hit Captain Fantastic. This is mostly because The Glass Castle follows a similar premise and does it much better. Matt Ross’s film painted child abuse and toxic parenting in a quirky and offbeat manner, taking pride in the father’s parenting techniques. Thankfully, Destin Daniel Cretton doesn’t fall into the same trap. Based on Jeanette Walls’s memoirs, this film openly acknowledges what an abusive and terrible father she lived with. While a couple of solid character traits manifest, the film never shies away from his repugnant behaviour and philosophies. To portray this situation under the guise of a quirky comedy would have done the story a complete disservice.

Cretton jumps between Walls’s childhood, teenager years and adulthood seamlessly, while still creating proper character development and telling a straight narrative. He avoids cheesiness or obvious winks to the audience when showing these flashbacks. Yet the entire time, we’re on Jeanette’s point-of-view. When the film shows Rex’s few positive attributes, it’s understandable why she still finds a connection with him. However, the film never sugarcoats what an abusive and alcoholic father he was. When Rex causes a confrontation at a public swimming pool, the audience is not meant to sympathise and root for him. He is entirely in the wrong through a lot of the film and Cretton doesn’t try and twist the audience to feel sorry for him. The abuse he gives to his wife and his children is not a charming game. It’s horrifying.

The Glass Castle openly criticises Rex’s worldview as flawed. For all of his demeaning of others as simple minded, he is far more-so. The film also portrays the difficulties that come from a wife or spousal figure in an abusive relationship. Jeanette’s mother Rose Mary tries hard to justify staying with this man, but can’t quite succumb the courage to leave. This is sadly true of many woman in similar situations and the film never tries to portray their relationship as quirky and “different.” The other Walls children are given less screen time and development than Jeanette, but this is likely explained by which POV the film chooses to take. The end credits do hint at a documentary that could be made of this family unit.

Brie Larson delivers a strong performance as Jeanette. The hatred and rage towards her father is portrayed convincingly in her eyes and she’s believably the older incarnation of the actors playing the younger Jeanette. Woody Harrelson shows the darkness lurking in Rex, with his charm occasionally peeking out and Naomi Watts creates a sympathetic figure with Rose Mary. The film doesn’t entirely stick the landing as the ending runs a little long. There’s also an attempt to go more sentimental, which doesn’t fit with the more downbeat tone of what preceded the conclusion. Max Greenfield’s role as Jeanette’s significant other is disappointingly not given much of a resolution.

Most of The Glass Castle avoids the schmaltziness one would expect and it never tries to portray Rex Walls’s parenting philosophy as the “correct” one. Watching this film reminds one why Captain Fantastic was such a dangerous film in the lessons it sought to convey. In this film, everyone else is Frank Langella and it’s a delight seeing the other characters call Walls out on his meshuganah ideas. Jeanette Walls’s likely involvement with the production probably played a role. Cretton seems to have been given the freedom to portray Rex as abusive as possible. These are the stories that should be portrayed on screen in showing the wrong way to parent and the hurt that can come from abusing them.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison