As one of the best film’s of the summer, “The Glass Castle” walks the line between heartbreaking and heartwarming as it tells the true and remarkable coming of age story of a young girl’s dysfunctional family, based on the memoir by author Jeannette Walls.
Jeannette’s story begins at a young age while living with her unconventional family of nomads, led by her alcoholic father and eccentric artist mother, who drag their four children around the country, living in abandon houses, often times without food, water or electricity. As the children grow older and come to terms with the realities of their poverty-stricken life, they quickly realize the only way to fulfill their needs and dreams is to get out from under their parents irregular lifestyle and make their own lives.
Part of The New York Times Best Seller list, the rights for the 2005 memoir was acquired by Lionsgate in 2012 and put into motion as a feature film. After tapping documentary and short film director Destin Daniel Cretton, actress Brie Larson, who had worked with Cretton on his first feature film, “Short Term 12,” was cast to play the adult version of Jeannette. Woody Harrelson was then brought on to play her father, along with Naomi Watts as the mother and a handful of talented actors to play Jeannette’s siblings.
I had the opportunity to visit with the author while she promoted the new film. When speaking about the story and how difficult it was to share, Walls mentioned that she was a “basket case” while writing the book, and that while she was “once ashamed by her past, she was so proud of the movie and the story it told.” She went on to say, “life is beautiful,” and that she was a “fan of storytelling because it’s something that happened to you and shapes who you are, but doesn’t have to control who you are.”
We also talked about how there were a handful of scripts in the early stages that didn’t quite get the story right, but eventually the final script captured the heart of the book - the relationship between the father and daughter (herself). In regards to the film’s casting, Walls mentioned that Larson is a “phenomenal actress,” Watts “nailed it,” and Harrelson “blew her away” by finding the “love and vulnerability” of Rex, the father. The author concluded by saying that the story and film are a “gift to anyone who grapples with a complicated family,” and that she “hopes the movie will make people think about their own story.”
Like many book to film adaptations, the movie doesn’t recount every detail from the story but still manages to tell a fascinating and moving tale. While certain things are toned down, the story is not exaggerated. Parts of the film can be tough to watch, like the father throwing one of his daughters in the public pool to learn how to swim, the time that Rex got drunk and wasted the family’s few dollars on alcohol instead of food, when young Jeannette was asked to cook and badly burned herself on the stove, or the harsh realties of the family’s lifestyle like having to sleep outside, shower at public pool, or stuff the children in the back of a moving truck while traveling from place to place.
In the end, I believe many viewers will appreciate this film and find the same amazing story that I did. The film shows that despite the flaws, disagreements and tough living conditions, the family still found a way to love and support each other, while learning many lessons during their experience, and that the children ultimately found a way to make a wonderful life for themselves. There’s no doubt in my mind that parts of the film will be up for end of the year awards, and that either way, I’ll likely be putting this one in my top ten of the year.
4 out of 5 stars.
“The Glass Castle” is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving family dysfunction, and for language and smoking. Running time is 2 hours and 7 minutes.