THE GLASS CASTLE shares the story of Jeannette Walls‘ unusual upbringing. Her father, Rex, clearly loves his children, but struggles with his own demons, makes some interesting parenting decisions, and gets egged on by his free-spirited artistic wife. All this complicates the family dynamic and creates interesting influences on the children.
By presenting the material in a relatable way, THE GLASS CASTLE avoids the sappiness that often sneaks into comedic family dramas. It paints a colorful portrait of family life and how our relationships influence who we become. Depending on your own childhood, some facets of the story may affect you more potently than others. But regardless of whether you had a near-perfect childhood or struggled through a very challenging one, there is something here for everyone.
Destin Cretton, along with Andrew Lanham, craft an affecting screenplay based on Jeannette’s autobiographical novel of her upbringing. You may recognize Destin Cretton as the writer and director of the much-loved SHORT TERM 12. Like that film, which focused on life in a group home, THE GLASS CASTLE also peeks inside the lives of imperfect people. Directing the film, Cretton never shies away from bringing forth the darker sides of people’s personalities, yet he also never omits the moments where people really shine. It’s this kind of exposure to both the good and bad of human beings that promotes understanding of the internal struggles that we all face. Instead of tearing down any of its subjects, it reminds us all that life has ups and downs and people have a duality about them. He focuses on the whole, but does so in a compassionate, non-judgmental way.
It’s not only the compassionate, although unwavering, manner in which the material is approached that makes THE GLASS CASTLE an exceptional film. The casting also brings so much to the table. Woody Harrelson embodies Rex so perfectly, audiences should find it easy to understand his choices. The Oscar-nominated actor transforms so completely into the multi-faceted character, that real-life Jeannette Walls loses her breath on occasion at a set visit as she watches his mannerisms and performance.
Harrison isn’t the only Oscar-nominated performer on set. Nominated for her roles in THE IMPOSSIBLE and 21 GRAMS, Naomi Watts breathes depth to Rex’s wife Rose Mary, the free-spirited artist who delivers the most WTF line of dialogue in the film. Apparently artists may relate somewhat and not find the words as shocking as non-artistic types. I’m curious if that’s true. Artists, feel free to weigh in.
Oscar-winner Brie Larson rounds out the cast of heavy-hitters in the role of the adult Jeannette. She conveys the character’s complexity through another powerful performance. We watch Jeannette evolve through three different actors. Seven-year-old Chandler Head (A WALK IN THE WOODS) presents the youngest Jeanette, with Ella Anderson (THE BOSS) taking on the slightly older Jeannette.
THE GLASS CASTLE may be one of the best films about family in the past decade. It allows us to glimpse the depth of human psychology and what shapes us into who we become. Never judgmental, the film succeeds at embracing that life is complicated and when it comes to family, it can be incredibly challenging, but also rewarding. It’s in theaters this weekend. Check it out.