The Glass Castle

 

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Harsh facts served up in a work looking for popular appeal.

 
 Glass Castle, The

Moving on: Woody Harrelson and Ella Anderson

 

In 2013 Destin Daniel Cretton gave us Short Term 12, an independent film of real distinction that revealed Brie Larson as an actress of huge potential. Cretton and Larson are now teamed again in The Glass Castle which is a very different proposition being Cretton's adaptation with Andrew Lanham of the bestselling memoir written by Jeannette Walls.

 

The good news here is that The Glass Castle confirms Cretton's gifts as a director, for he keeps everything on the move so well that the film readily sustains a running length of over two hours. This piece, however, is self-evidently a work conceived in a popular style, which, like the recent The Big Sick, seeks to incorporate humour into a story that is often deeply serious. The Glass Castle centres on Rex Walls, father of Jeannette and three other siblings. Rex was a man who could never hold down any job and succumbed to alcoholism, while his wife, Rose Mary, accepted a bohemian life-style as she devoted herself to painting. Over the years the kids (each played by three actors in turn) had to fend for themselves, while dad would readily argue that his harsh treatment of them (he is the kind of man who teaches you to swim by throwing you into the water to manage as best you can) has helped to make them survivors.

 

Much of what we see here appears to be true, but the end credits acknowledge fictional elements and Jeannette's real-life first husband is replaced by the fictitious accountant David. This comes to matter because The Glass Castle seeks to let Rex Walls off the hook. That may be true of the memoir too, but judging by what we see here he was in fact a monster. Even so, the film, having concentrated on Jeanette's bid for independence as a writer in New York, ends on a sentimental note and on occasion even invites us to relish Rex (his critical view of David and his world seems justified and at such times he comes across as not far removed from the father who, eccentric but wise, disrupted the life of his conformist, materialistic daughter in the 2016 German hit comedy Toni Erdmann).

 

Despite Cretton reuniting with Larson, her role here as the adult Jeannette is hardly a rewarding one. It is the younger Jeannette played by Ella Anderson who has the more rewarding scenes to play, but in any case, despite having Naomi Watts as mother, the heart of The Glass Castle belongs to Woody Harrelson (his strongest competition comes from Robin Bartlett, so special in Chronic, who offers a fine cameo as Rex's disturbing mother). However much one may question the approach to Rex Walls that the film embraces, it has to be said that Harrelson realises the role magnificently. Yet to embrace this work you quite possibly need to be someone with difficult parents and consequently ready to be comforted by seeing an even worse example. Such people will eagerly endorse the film's closing dedication to families who despite their scars are able to love.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, Ella Anderson, Max Greenfield, Sarah Snook, Robin Bartlett, Josh Caras, Shree Grace Crooks, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Charlie Shotwell, Sadie Sink.

 

Dir Destin Daniel Cretton, Pro Gil Netter and Ken Kao, Screenplay Destin Daniel Cretton and Andrew Lanham, from the book by Jeannette Walls, Ph Brett Pawlak, Pro Des Sharon Seymour, Ed Nat Sanders, Music Joel P West, Costumes Mirren Gordon-Crozier and Joy Hanae Lani Cretton.

 

Gil Netter Productions-Lionsgate UK.
127 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 6 October 2017. Cert. 12A.