Review: The Glass Castle

Distributor: Lionsgate
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Writer: Destin Daniel Cretton & Andrew Lanham
Starring: Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, Sarah Snook, Max Greenfield, Ella Anderson, Dominic Bogart, Shree Crooks
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG-13
The trailer certainly came off as very different to certain degrees before walking into the theater. While the film follows Jeanette’s life journey on overcoming and even forgiving her father Rex, Rex himself becomes questionable in regards to his portrayal of having a fatherly love despite his drunkenness and noticeable faults.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: There are moments of difficulty in regards to emotional and physical abuse throughout the film. For younger audiences, it can be a little frightening to see.
Language/Crude Humor: Profane talk can be found in a variety of places along with crude humor regarding Rex and his treatment of others outside and within the family.
Spiritual Content: Despite the pain and difficulty, Jeanette comes to terms that she has to forgive her father and reconcile with his life choices and harsh words and actions towards her.
Sexual Content: High school Jeannette is nearly forced to have sex with a drunk until she gives in only to reveal to him a nasty scar that turns him off, allowing her to flee the scene. Another shocking moment is child Jeannette walking in on her brother being forced to give oral sex to his grandmother. Though Jeanette stops this horrendous act right before the pants come down, it is still revealing and also leads to a scene of physical abuse and fighting.
Drug/Alcohol References: Rex is a struggling alcoholic throughout a majority of the film and acts out when drunk and when trying to go cold turkey on drinking.
Positive Content: Forgiveness, reconciliation, overcoming hate with love are significant factors that are found throughout and can be greatly applied to families on a true act of forgiveness.

Review

Based on the 2005 memoir of Jeanette Walls herself, The Glass Castle significantly covers the life and point of view of Jeanette and her distancing from her parents, with her siblings following afterward. Portraying the father-daughter relationship is Woody Harrelson as Rex and Brie Larsen as Jeannette. Primarily focusing on them, their character chemistry is one that melts and breaks the hearts of audiences, from their early to later years. Yet, during these heartwarming moments, it also may come off as very conflicting, considering the family’s circumstances and problems.
During Jeannette’s childhood (her younger self portrayed by Ella Anderson), audiences witness the difficulty in her family’s dynamics as she carries her siblings when her parents stand by and forget them. The witness includes her personal relationship with her father, as it slowly deteriorates. Yet, the love and connection between the two as father and daughter appear in and out of the story. What this does through Woody Harrelson’s strong performance is the portrayal of his never-ending conflict with his inner demons as he tries to commit to his family while being brought down by alcoholism, his talkative ego, and much more. As the years passed by, these dark sides of Rex appear at an increasing rate, some that even put the children themselves in danger. Audiences continue to witness this in Jeanette’s adult life through Brie Larson’s committed performances of trying to remain independent from her parent’s opinions about her as she struggles with her life due to her upbringing.
Adding to the dysfunctional family is Rose (Naomi Watts), the wife of Rex. While her character is secondary, it outshines and is outspoken through her constant struggles of wanting to leave Rex but never following through. The fact that her children notice and encourage her to leave speaks volumes as to how trapped their mother is within the family. This is a very strong portrayal that, while leaving seems so easy to the outside world, it is much harder and more complex for those who are trapped. We not only see this with the mother but with Jeannette’s siblings as they grow older. While each of them was able to leave when they could, it took them years to due to age gaps and reliability.
A difficulty found within the film along with the trailer is how it portrays Rex as a loving father who is anti-system and pro-experience when it comes to life. This gives the impression as if the film is trying to justify Rex’s actions towards his family to certain degrees, whether it’s him and Jeanette sitting under the stars or the whole family working on building their new home. Through the music score, this plays a little bit off of the emotions of the audiences as does the trailer, by portraying Rex as a good father. 
Yet, the film also reveals the horrible and even horrendous acts of Rex that disqualify his redemptive qualities. From his alcoholism to his controlling parenting, Rex destroys any hopes the children had in their parents. This type of relationship between Rex and his family portrays a strong sense of false hope and even nihilism as Jeannette soon sees that there is no point in forgiving or asking her father of anything, knowing it will end in moving a step backward. It is a constant conflict that audiences will have, especially when it comes to those who have thoroughly read the book.
Furthermore, the film portrays a strong yet conflicted message of forgiveness. To some audience members and even critics, this film’s message may communicate that every harsh and cruel act bestowed upon by Rex is easily excusable when forgiveness and reconciliation come into play. In the two-hour run-time, it may seem so, but at the same time, it is not so. Through the film’s chronological storytelling, forgiveness is a constant barrier that is broken down due to forgotten promises, unfulfilled goals, and the failure of parental love. 
Audiences never witness forgiveness as an easy act to achieve for both Jeanette and Rex, let alone the family. It is an ongoing process, which is even delayed when Jeanette and the siblings enter into post-college adulthood. Yet, when the real opportunity of forgiveness arises, Jeanette begins to see just some of the good qualities and acts her father performed, no matter how small they were. This in no way excuses his bad qualities, but rather, allows for Jeannette to find the good in her father, allowing her to move beyond her hatred and move towards love. In an interview with Brie Larson on NBC News,
“[Jeanette] is just a great representation of how resilient humans are. That we can go through a lot and still make it on the other side, willing to love and accept….one of things she has taught me is that she hasn’t forgiven her parents because there’s nothing that she feels to forgive. They just did the best that they could and she accepts that this was the best that they could, and I think that’s a beautiful sentiment.” 
As if the conflicts of the film are not difficult enough for audiences to debate over, one particular section of the film remains less interesting and is hardly attended. Jeannette’s fiancé David (Max Greenfield) is a character that came off as pretty forced and even unnecessary at certain points. He comes off as a genuinely good man who provides and loves Jeanette, yet he also is portrayed as a shallow person more focused on work and materialism. It overall is a fill-in for the sake of the plot and Jeanette’s conflict of wanting a normal life, which probably would have been better without him, to begin with, or expanded on.
Make no mistake that the casting choices were great and nearly all of them contributed to their part in this film adaption. This being said, this film will do one of two things: leave audiences conflicted or leave audiences on opposite ends of either enjoying or disproving. That is a decision for people individually. As for myself, while I did enjoy it, it still leaves a conflicting feeling within me when I think of certain scenes and moments.

 

Positives

+ Strong portrayal for forgiveness & reconciliation + Excellent casting and portrayals + Realistic portrayal of family abuse and neglect

Negatives

- Questionable portrayal of Rex's fatherlike character - Unnecessary side characters

The Bottom Line

While The Glass Castle is an interesting film to discuss, the forgiveness aspect may come off as an excuse to gloss over Rex's horrendous acts as a parent and husband. Again, it leaves it open for debate with people but this is a difficultly to deal with after walking out.

 

8.2

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Trey Soto

Trey Soto holds a B.A. in Communication Studies from Biola University, emphasis in Interpersonal/Rhetorical Theory. He has been a Film Critic/Analysis for over a year at Geeks Under Grace and other websites such as Temple of Geek. In his spare time, he enjoys comic book literature, screenwriting, production assistant freelancing, photography, cosplay, and hosting his own film podcast T.V. Trey on Podbean and iTunes.

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