The Glass Castle is an uneven movie and I am not sure how I feel about it. Based on the memoir of the same name by Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle tells the story of Jeannette’s childhood with her family, squatting in abandoned houses, running from the law and dealing with an alcoholic father.
The film, told by switching between Jeannette’s childhood and adulthood in flashbacks, presents us with an uncertain message, mainly about the father, Rex (Woody Harrelson).
Rex is a remarkably complex character, played brilliantly by Woody Harrelson, but the film has a mixed message about him. They want you to both see how violent and abusive he could be while drinking, yet it shows you how quirky and imaginative he is at other times. And while that is how you develop a very solid character, it seems like the film wants to excuse a lot of his behavior. Honestly, I did not want to excuse any of it, considering how he acted.
Some of the best scenes of the movie came in the flashbacks between Harrelson and young Jeannette, played by Ella Anderson. Anderson is the strongest child actor in a very solid group from this movie, and she has a lot of the heavy lifting involved in presenting this back story. She has the heart of these scenes, including the strength she showed with her brother and two sisters.
Unfortunately, Brie Larson is not given the same amount of heart in the present day scenes, as she is written stoic and withdrawn. She is engaged to David (Max Greenfield) who is given so little development that he comes off as a cliche of a rich investment banker. There is also no real reason given for Jeannette to be this manner. One would think it had to do with her childhood, but there is a scene of her with Harrelson when she was in college that seemed to change the dynamic between them, making the present day behavior all the more suspect.
Rex is both a terrible father and a wonderful father, and you see the background in which he was raised (with some horrible implications directed toward his mother) so you could almost accept the uncertainty with which the film pictures him, but Jeannette’s mother, Rose Mary (Naomi Watts), is a different animal. Rose Mary is an artist who seems to care only about her art. She is selfish, full of excuses and lacks emotional strength. In fact, one could argue that she wants to be in this type of a relationship. There is a pretty brutal and abusive scene between Rex and Rose Mary in a flashback that showed the type of co-dependent relationship these two characters had.
And none of that was a healthy situation for four kids. Despite growing up in at worse an abusive home and at best a non-conformist home where they were not the most important part of their parents lives, the kids seem unaffected in the long run. Yet, in the end, the kids seem to forget all the negative aspects of their childhood, only remembering the happy times. Either they are extremely healthy mentally or in complete denial.
The movie is simply too long, and because of that, it gets dull at times and repetitive at others. You needed to shave about 20 minutes off of the run time, and I think you could do that by limiting the present day scenes, which did not feel necessary for the narrative.
Woody Harrelson is great here, and the child actor’s are all really good as well. Naomi Watts is wasted as this shadow of a character and Brie Larson is not given the sufficient material for her skill. Still, there are parts of The Glass Castle that are good, and the real pictures and home videos that play in the credits really bring you back into the minds of these kids who lived through what had to be a dark childhood. Too bad the film wanted too much to put a happy ribbon on it.