Review: The Glass Castle has powerful flashbacks but grows up lazy and simplistic
- Credit: Lionsgate Films/Jake Giles Netter
Adapted from Jeannette Walls' best-selling memoir, director Destin Daniel Cretton's film, starrinh Oscar winner Brie Larson, asks us to believe that formative years marked harsh lessons in self-preservation could inspire four siblings.
The Glass Castle (15)
'One day I'm gonna write/the story of my life.' Oh please don't. And if you do, please, please, please don't let them make a film of it.
Other people's lives are never as interesting as other people think they are. That said, you'd have thought Jeanette Walls' best selling misery memoir might have made for something better than this.
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In the opening scene successful New York journalist Jeannette Walls (played by Oscar winner Brie Larson) in a cab home from a swanky restaurant sees her homeless parents scavenging in the garbage.
From there we flashback to her and her three siblings' attempts to survive a rootless childhood, being moved from place to place by their parents.
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Her father Rex (Woody Harrelson) is the kind of anti-authoritarian American free spirit who says things like 'You learn by living, everything else is a damn lie.' He's part survivalist, part hippy free spirit and all drunk; a head full of ideas and not a single clue.
He's also a vain, attention seeker. Everything is about him. So much so that his wife Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) becomes little more than a wall flower.
The growing up sections are like a less nuanced version of Captain Fantastic, with Rex believing that he is giving his kids a real education.
Twelve-year-old Ella Anderson is eerily good as the young Jeanette; she looks like she might grow up to be the girl in Six Feet Under. Harrelson though gives us some over familiar moves as the dad.
These parts are repetitive but do at least have some interest. The film is sunk in the grown up, New York parts, when Larson takes over the role and the writing becomes lazy and simplistic.
There are scenes here which would be embarrassing in a Reese Witherspoon romcom; walking out on someone during a meal when you realise you don't love them; the luxury apartment shared with the yuppie boyfriend who is obviously wrong for her; even, the slow motion run down the street to be with the person you should be with.
It's failure to deal with the complexity of its characters, especially Rex, is demonstrated in the way it will flip back and forth between showing him as a monster, and deciding he was alright really. Its notion of ambiguity is for him to alternate between two extremes.
Don't put your daughter on the stage Mrs Robinson, and don't put your life onto the screen Mrs Walls because they just won't get it. They'll try to do it properly, kid themselves that they can handle the truth, but in the end they just slice it up and store it in the same small boxes they put everything else in.