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How to learn to succeed against any and all odds is the theme of the drama, The Glass Castle, based on the haunting 2005 memoir by Jeanette Wallis starring Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, and Naomi Watts.
Jeanette Wallis (played as a child by Ella Anderson, and young teen and adult by Larson) and her three siblings are being raised by two extremely non-conformist parents, alcoholic salesman Rex (Harrelson) and codependent artist Rosemary (Watts). Due to Rex’s alcoholism and fits of violence, he has trouble keeping a job, which leads him to drag his wife and three children from city to city every time the bill collectors or the police call. The Wallis’s finally settle in Pennsylvania to live near Rex’s antagonistic mother and move into a house with no electricity and no running water. After constantly witnessing Rex spend all of the family’s food money on alcohol, their mother continuously enabling him, and neither one of them making any effort to change, the children take it upon themselves to stick together so that they can get out of that house as soon as possible. But not without a fight from Rex.
If one described the events in that happened in this movie out loud, it would most likely disturb the individuals on the receiving end. Getting burned as a child because your mother was too lazy to cook you lunch? The children have to dig holes in the backyard because there is so much garbage that there is nowhere else to put it? Sexual abuse from a relative? These are all extremely horrible events, and are written as such in the novel as extremely horrible events. But here, these scenes are only glossed over and not given enough time to be processed and explored. The weight of turmoil that these children went through is not thoroughly felt, so when you find out the children finally do leave, you don’t really care. Also, the movie is told in a non-linear fashion, with one scene with Jeanette as a child and the next with Jeanette as an adult. The parents actually follow her to New York, but we don’t see any of this actually take place. They just appear in the next scene together. Not seeing on screen that these parents who hindered Jeanette’s life for so long, have actually have no intention of letting her live her life takes away of lot of the dramatic weight.
There are some great performances from young Ella Anderson, Larson, and Harrelson. All three elevate mediocre material. Larson, in particular, has a couple of unnecessary monologues that only serve the purpose of summarizing what the audience has already seen rather that give insight to how her character is feeling. Harrelson, who serves as the real lead, is charismatic and likeable. But in a role like that, it would have benefitted him to be just a little more unlikeable, so the audience can feel the same conflict that the children feel about their father.
The Glass Castle is an decent movie that should have been a great one. Director Destin Daniel Cretton made a decision to make a movie that everyone can watch and enjoy after a nice dinner, rather than a movie that tugs at your soul and makes you think about the ups and downs of the human condition