The Glass Castle

With parents like these who needs enemies?
4/10 - The Glass Castle adequately depicts warts and all horror of growing up with neglectful and abusive parents. But its bid to show their actions as amusing and ultimately redeemable falls flat.
Release Date: 
Friday, October 6, 2017
Written by: 

The Glass Castle tells the real-life story of journalist Jeannette Walls' harrowing childhood, which featured poverty, hunger, uncertainty, and neglect.


The Glass Castle doesn't shy away from showing the full horror of journalist Jeannette Walls' neglectful childhood.

The film is based on the memoir of the same name by the former New York gossip columnist.

In the bestselling book she recalled a childhood of poverty, hunger, and uncertainty, which the film recreates in some detail.

Oscar-winner Brie Larson plays the oldest incarnation of Jeanette, who is also depicted by three other actresses as the film alternates between her youth, teenage years and her adulthood in 1989.

Flame-haired Jeannette is one of four children of abusive, alcoholic father Rex (Woody Harrelson) and self-centred artist mother Rose Mary (Naomi Watts), who are sometimes left to go hungry for days.

Jeannette learns to fend for herself – sometimes with dangerous results – and care for her two sisters and brother at a young age, as their irresponsible parents shift the family around the country due to their precarious circumstances.

The film’s subject matter reads like a “misery memoir” but the onscreen retelling seems a little contradictory, as director Destin Daniel Cretton attempts to balance some of the darkness with lighter moments.

The Glass Castle adequately depicts the horrors its young characters endure.

One of the most harrowing scenes occurs early in the film when three-year-old Jeanette is urged to go and make herself hot dogs and is scalded by boiling water as she tries to take the pot off the stove. Her mother left the task to her as she wanted to continue painting.

Director Cretton’s straightforward approach doesn’t linger on the violence and squalor Jeannette and her siblings suffered in Welch, West Virginia, the rundown backwater town Rex is forced to return to when the family is broke.

However, a major problem with the film is Woody Harrelson’s contradictory onscreen portrayal of the drunk dad, Rex.

A neglectful father who terrorised his children in alcohol-fuelled rages, in some scenes this is contrasted with an approach to parenting which almost encourages the view that he is unorthodox, exciting and amusing.

Similarly, Naomi’s performance as Rose Mary shows a baby-woman whose only problem was she may have loved painting a little too much.

The Glass Castle refers to Rex’s ambition to build a solar-powered structure he’s been designing for years, which, given his failure to quit the booze or hold a job is never going to happen.

Once the children hatch a plan to save money and escape to New York one by one, we see Jeannette make a better life for herself in the 1989 sections and become engaged to a wealthy but dull fiancé, played by Max Greenfield.

But her attempts to shut out the horrors of the past fail and the filmmaker makes a valiant attempt to show her come to terms with it, but although this may be satisfying for Jeannette, it could leave the audience cold.

Boasting strong performances by Brie and Sarah Snook, Josh Caras and Brigette Lundy-Paine, who play her siblings as adults, but on a whole, it’s a bit of a slog and while you feel sympathy for the children, there is also rising horror when Harrelson’s Rex is given a light moment which somehow excuses his vile treatment of his family.

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