THE GLASS CASTLE review by Mark Walters – Woody Harrelson wows in one of the year’s best

THE GLASS CASTLE review by Mark Walters – Woody Harrelson wows in one of the year’s best

It’s easy to forget how lucky we are. We sometimes get caught up with things that annoy us, or things we want that others have, or just silly material possessions that in the grand scheme of life don’t really mean much. But there are so many out there who live without basic essentials – no food in the pantry, no beds to sleep in, no water to bathe with, not even a regular home to stay in. The story of THE GLASS CASTLE (based on the best-selling memoir by Jeannette Walls) follows a family who move from home to home (usually abandoned houses), and rely on an alcoholic father who sometimes spends what little money they have on booze instead of food for the family. And by the end, it will have you really appreciating what you DO have in life.

Rex (Woody Harrelson) and Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) are raising four children, squatting in various houses and living without working, which of course has its challenges. Rex is (on the surface) a pretty cool dad – he gets along well with his kids, has a fantastic imagination, and usually has a smile and joke to keep everyone entertained with… but he also drinks, a lot. Rose Mary is always painting, almost obsessively, and at one point even misses preventing young Jeanette from catching on fire while cooking at the stove. As the years go by, the creative life of this nomad family becomes strained and difficult. Rex’s alcoholism gets worse, and soon Jeannette and her siblings realize their only solution is to find a way to leave. The story is told by going back and forth in time, as we see a twenty-something Jeanette (Brie Larson) now living in New York and working as a successful journalist, at times hiding the truth about her origins while in mixed company. Her boyfriend David is on the cusp of being a very successful businessman, so her appearance to others is important to his future. Eventually the timeline catches up, and we see older Rex and Rose Mary interacting with David and Jeannette, and how despite her success things are still quite shaky.

THE GLASS CASTLE is at times emotionally exhausting, but never in a way that makes you feel bad. Brie Larson is excellent as Jeannette Walls and helps carry the film quite a bit, playing the role as a strong and confident woman who is haunted by memories of her former life. But it’s Woody Harrelson that steals the show in this complex character piece. His portrayal of Rex is masterful and haunting, exhibiting all the qualities we’d ever want in a perfect dad, and then shocking us with all the imperfections a father could potentially have. He makes this role a fascinating one to watch, particularly when things get heated or intense. We know that Rex means well and loves his family, but he is also a destructive force upon himself in a such a way that he’ll never truly be right. Even when his family starts to leave him one by one, he can’t seem to steer himself straight. And sadly, Rose Mary isn’t much help, as while she knows he’s in a bad way, she loves him too much to leave him behind. Naomi Watts loses herself in the role and is nearly unrecognizable at times. She plays well off Harrelson, and really sells the sometimes twisted dynamic between these two. And that’s important, as if we didn’t believe these parents really fit together and loved each other despite it all, we’d never buy into the family being able to exist the way they do.

While Larson plays Jeannette quite well, Ella Anderson (as young Jeannette) and Chandler Head (as younger Jeannette) are also quite extraordinary. Both are given powerful moments in the story, and really sell the angst and emotional roller coaster this young woman must go through. Anderson especially is a revelation, quite frequently stealing the scene from her co-stars. I also enjoyed Max Greenfield as David, Jeannette’s boyfriend while she’s living life as a journalist. He plays a rather compassionate and sympathetic character, and by the end you can’t help but feel for him by having to deal with her past as it catches up with her. Destin Daniel Cretton serves as director on the film, re-teaming with Larson after their exceptional work on SHORT TERM 12, and he excels at capturing great character moments regardless of age or the scenario. At two hours and 7 minutes, the movie never feels overly long, but packs plenty into its running time.

While I wouldn’t call THE GLASS CASTLE a particularly uplifting film, and at times it can be quite depressing, I would absolutely label it a realistic and important look at a fractured family. It’s the kind of story that makes you think, a lot actually, and will likely leave you with a new appreciation of your own past. The hardships we grow up with make us who we are as adults, for better or worse. What’s most effective about this production is that we all very likely can find something in it that’s easy to relate to. And in the end, despite how bad some things go, there’s still an underlying message of hope… surviving one’s own family can be hard, but what you learn from it can be invaluable.

THE GLASS CASTLE opens August 11, 2017

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community’s leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.