The Glass Castle
Directed by: Destin Daniel Cretton
Starring: Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, Max Greenfield, Sarah Snook and Robin Bartlett
Run Time: 2h 7min
Genre: Biography, Drama
4 Frames out of 5
By: Shari K. Green
The story The Glass Castle is from a memoir written by 80’s gossip columnist, Jeanette Wells. It’s about her very unconventional upbringing that gave us a fabulous subject to read about and now makes a fascinating film to watch. Incredibly unorthodox or even oddball parents of four young children, Rex (Harrelson) and Rose Mary (Watts), decide to go off the grid with the kids. Sick of people, especially government, telling them what to do and how to do it, they now decide what’s best. They don’t want their brood of three girls and one boy taught in public schools because schools can’t teach them what having real life experiences can, nor can it pass on what they, Rex and Rose Mary, can themselves. Wandering around mostly homeless is a lot to take on but the challenge is faced with eyes wide open.
Rose Mary is an artist so moving from place to place and living off the land gives her an opportunity to be in touch with the outdoors which is often the setting and the subject of her paintings. Though she gives Rex some pushback, she does agree that it exposes the children to an environment they wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to experience.
Rex is a free spirit who comes more from a place of anger. Intelligent like his mother, he wants the kids to touch a cactus and get poked rather than read about its piercing needles. Unfortunately, and examples of this are plentiful in the film, he walks a fine line between devotion and callousness. This is also something he inherited from his mother. Leaving home, he now gets to live free but is he truly considering the family or feeding his narcissistic tendencies? I’ll let you determine that on your own. Director Cretton and Harrelson do an exceptional job of making that easy for you decide.
The title of the film comes from a promise Rex has made through their years of traveling from state to state and moving from one worn down dump to another. Each time they actually live in a home, he tells the hungry and fatigued yet ambitious children that he’ll build them a castle made of glass. He always piques their interest by showing their enthusiastic minds his designs for it and in one home they even pitch in to build its foundation… which eventually becomes a landfill. As time goes by and the hole fills, they still do whatever they’re told and still remain loyal to show their love, trust and belief in him. It’s excruciating to watch Rex himself crack what holds the family together.
Harrelson is intense as he brings Rex to life. He’s well cast as a control freak that would rather drink himself unconscious than feed his children. Watts matches wits with Harrelson as a caring mother who stays an adoring wife, going along with what he says not matter what the situation is. Brie Larson joins the cast halfway through and picks up where two younger actresses left off playing the younger versions of the smart, strong and fiercely opinionated and independent, Jeannette. She does the character justice by showing the painful transition of a child following orders to a young adult realizing the very real circumstances and station in life they’re now facing. Respect and affection for her parents are questioned and what makes The Glass Castle such an exceptional story is how it shows that you can still have both yet do what’s ultimately best for you.
This is quite an incredibly moving story with remarkable performances from the children on up and I highly recommend you see this as soon as you can. Two notes for you… bring a tissue and stay for the pictures at the end.