For some movies, repetition for effect can be a really powerful tool. There are great examples for the pros and cons of this tool, but for this film, The Glass Castle, this tool is used in a way that weakens the film and ultimately turns it from a good movie to a mediocre movie that I just couldn’t quite give the recommendation to. While the cast gives it their all, that repetition really makes it a film that’s too long and in some ways boring.
The story follows storyteller Jeanette Walls, played in the 80’s by Brie Larson and a couple of younger actresses in the 60’s, who is reflecting on her young life, where she and her family moved around from place to place as her alcoholic father and carefree mother jump ship from job to job or solution to solution as far as raising their family. While this has eventually led the path to Jeanette being a recognizable columnist in New York society in the late 80’s, and for a few of her siblings to get at least a stable job, Jeanette has always worried that if her parents had been less rebellious and more normal, perhaps things would be better for her. As she once again finds her parents in New York at the beginning of the film, she will have to confront them once again as she prepares for a big step in her personal life and hopes that maybe this time things can be different and maybe, just maybe, she can find out why her parents acted the way they did and if she has to thank them for doing so or scold them.
Well, I can pretty much sum up the strengths of the movie in one word: acting. Brie Larson re-teams with her Short Term 12 (2013) director, Destine Daniel Cretton, and while I haven’t seen that film, everybody who has says it helped put Brie Larson on the map. For me, though, I think The Spectacular Now (2013), released that same summer, was where I discovered her, but regardless, I can see why they like to team up: she gives a fine performance here, well, with the exception that sometimes her West Virginian accent slips every once in a while, but outside of Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), pretty much every actor and actress out there has been accused of that. Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts also do nice work as the parents, and while the story has them doing at times crazy and insane things, I think these two are actually about the best choices for the parts. Practically every scene where Harrelson is drinking then doing something stupid, I kept saying to myself, “Yep, that’s what he would probably do”, and I don’t mean that to be a weakness, it’s just that it felt like a very naturalistic performance, like he had experience in that regard and channeled it. Okay, enough of that. But the young actress who steals the show is Ella Anderson who plays a 12 year-old version of Jeanette. Tremendous work. I’d like to see her again in more work that allows her to get the same amount of range she fills Jeanette with: anger, frustration, joy, happiness, sadness, melancholy, and at times depression. All of that is used at that at breakneck speed as she has to change on a dime depending on what the scene is calling for. Good work!
So yep, let’s get into this: the film just takes too damn long going back to the well of, “My childhood sucked and my parents were insane”. Now, obviously, since this is a true story, I guess there’s no way around this without completely deviating from the source material and getting everybody pissed off. Well, again, I just think that that material works best in the novel format and not so much on screen. It gets to that point where you can predict how the film’s gonna play out almost to the nth degree. The film also reminded me of Captain Fantastic (2016), which, if you haven’t seen, is worth seeking out, and how that is also about a father who impacts his children through unorthodox teachings, and at times bizarre behavior, but that film was inventive and every five minutes was into a new feeling or genre. This one is a rinse, lather, repeat of “My childhood sucked and my parents were insane”, and really until we get to the scenes of Jeanette finally confronting them, well into the third act, mind you, it felt too little too late and I just didn’t care anymore.
I know, if you just read that second paragraph, you might think I half-assed my way into writing that description out, but in a way the film version of this true story can’t help but make it sound that way. I mean, no disrespect to the real-life Jeanette Walls, and I haven’t read the novel on which this is based, but as far as whether or not this story was cinematic, well, the filmmakers and actors sure tried, but ultimately I felt this was probably best served as a novel or a vocally told story and as a film it doesn’t really expand into a story I will be revisiting anytime soon.
My rating: 5/10.