‘The Glass Castle’ shatters hearts and opens minds

Jeannette Walls novel comes to life on the big screen

Family and functionality aren’t two words that always go hand-in-hand. However, “The Glass Castle” and the Walls family prove that regardless of circumstance, family is family and living with them isn’t as hard as living without them.

“The Glass Castle,” directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and based on the book of the same name written by Jeannette Walls, follows Walls’  journey from adolescence to adulthood as she lives with her nomadic family of nonconformists and their struggles. Portraying herself and her family members is an all-star cast consisting of Brie Larson as Jeannette, Woody Harrelson as her father Rex, and Naomi Watts as her mother Rose Mary.

Right from the get go, the actors prove that they are as powerful together as they are apart. Rex is a character whose personal demons have held him back from much and led to a life of drinking, but at his core he is a loving father who wants to do right by his family. Rose Mary is an artist who wants to live a free life with the man she loves, while still providing stability for her family. Jeannette is a girl whose love of her family is as powerful as her need to find herself and the life she always wanted away from poverty.

Each character is as complex as the one before and the actors prove that they have the chops to pull them off. In a single shot at any given moment, especially for Larson and Harrelson, the actor needs to be able to pair pain or disgust with deep-rooted, unconditional love and there wasn’t a single moment where the audience doesn’t see that written all over their faces.

In several scenes such as when Larson and Harrelson go head to head in a rancorous shouting match at a dinner party or when an 11-year-old version of the character (Ella Anderson) watches her father slip back into drinking habits, the audience is reminded through incredible acting and believable tears that love and pain often can go hand-in-hand. The actors demonstrate this beautifully.

It’s easy to go on and on talking through the film’s characters, but only because each is so rich and layered. While Cretton could’ve easily focused on each character’s single defining characteristics, he instead fully embraces each complexity to create a deep web of interconnecting thoughts and feelings.

Aside from this, the film is shot in beautiful warm tones that exude a feeling of home, while the writing carefully tackles its balance of humor and heartache. It’s one flaw is that in the need to make the film stay around two hours, there are points where things feel rushed, particularly between flashbacks.

These moments are fleeting, but it feels as though there are several times where certain themes could be fleshed out, but in a film where its largest struggle is having too much good content, this is to be expected.

It is also worth mentioning that the truly heartbreaking moment at the films end should’ve had more emotional impact than it ended up landing as it feels that the end rushes toward a halt instead of marinating in the sadness of the moment. With so many other compelling and rich scenes throughout the movie, it makes this particular moment feel under appreciated, but perhaps the beauty in it is that it illustrates how life isn’t always catastrophically dramatic and often sad things just happen.

“The Glass Castle” may not have had me drenched in my own tears with it’s ending, but it filled me with an overwhelming swell of emotions throughout that had me grinning from ear to ear on the way home from the theater.

Overall score: 4/5

Reach the reporter at balnero13@gmail.com or follow @BaldnerOwen on Twitter.

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