Headlined by a trio of Hollywood heavyweights, this film adaptation of the 2005 best-seller by Jeannette Walls presents a riveting and raw look inside her real-life nomadic upbringing in a highly dysfunctional family. Riding the same harrowing and shocking family details that kept Walls’ novel on the New York Times’ best-seller list for 261 weeks, “The Glass Castle” shakes moviegoers with inspirational pep talks and heartbreaking results.
Emmy winner and Oscar-nominated Woody Harrelson portrays the patriarch of the Walls family, relocating his wife (Naomi Watts) and their four small children from one abandoned home to the next. As the brilliant thinker and even better talker, Rex, Harrelson teeters between providing love and neglect to family. Keeping score of his abusive behavior and the unkept promises of her father is daughter Jeannette Walls, played by Academy Award-winner Brie Larson (“Room”).
“The Glass Castle” is an emotional and thought-provoking train wreck. With never a dull moment, the film smartly focuses on the father-daughter relationship between Harrelson and Larson. Cleverly, the deceptive and manipulative ways of Harrelson’s character sways everyone initially: the young children, his accomplice wife and us, the viewers. As Harrelson’s flaws emerge, his love for his kids is overshadowed by abuse, alcohol and an inability to provide for his family.
This film explores the correlation between one’s tumultuous upbringing and how a child turns out in the end. It delves into the psyche of a young girl given assurances and promises by her father, who has no ability to make either come true. “The Glass Castle” is a testament to the fact that despite one’s difficult childhood under abusive and irresponsible parenting, it’s still possible for children to love their parents. And to get out from under that turmoil and thrive.
Sensational performances abound in this true story. Larson does an excellent job as Jeannette, the teenager and grown-up author and gossip columnist. It’s the younger versions of “Jeannette” though, who carry this fascinating film using standout set-up work from Chandler Head and Ella Anderson. A disillusioned mother, Rose Marie (Watts), confidently steps aside to let Harrelson’s Oscar-worthy role sputter and falter for all to see.
“The Glass Castle” raises awareness of parental responsibilities and offers hope to children seeking to overcome life’s hurdles. Substandard upbringing does not mean the circle of abuse and poverty can’t still be broken. And a heartbreaking story can have an inspiring, loving end. Look for Woody Harrelson (and perhaps Brie Larson) to get Academy Award nominations from their outstanding performances in this emotional film.