“The Glass Castle” is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a child’s fantasy home bred from a vivid imagination and lofty, unattainable aspirations. It is the vision of grandeur that author Jeannette Walls (Brie Larson) and her father, Rex (Woody Harrelson), constructed on paper throughout her childhood. Then she became old enough to understand it was never going to come to fruition.
It’s a story of shattered dreams and the awakenings amid the shards, first told in Walls’ stirring, best-selling memoir.
In director Destin Daniel Cretton’s adaptation, Larson and Harrelson breathe life into these complex characters as their family of six (Walls has two sisters and a brother) navigates through an extremely unconventional upbringing.
Jeannette and her siblings were raised by parents who preferred a life outside of the norms of society. Instead of enrolling the kids in school, they educated them with “lessons” — like driving their station wagon off a Midwest desert road and seeing Joshua trees up close. But the romantic notion of that has a harsher side: the kids slept beneath the stars without even a tent for shelter.
Rex and his wife Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) were chronically unemployed, a reality that taught their four kids how to survive without food for days, electricity, indoor plumbing or a steady home. They eventually settled down in West Virginia, where the family portrait gets even darker; shaded by child molestation, addiction and extreme poverty.
But through it all, Walls learned resilience, toughness and strength. Her upbringing instilled in her an unwavering drive to go after and achieve everything she wanted in life. She learned how to dream — and to reach for more. Her parents’ failings forged her success.
“The Glass Castle” is a family portrait that at its heart is a father-daughter movie, anchored by two outstanding actors.
Larson, an Oscar winner for “Room,” knows her way around a bleak drama. Her deft transformation from a malnourished, white trash young woman into a sophisticated, cosmopolitan force is inspired.
And Harrelson, once pigeonholed in goofy roles, shows his serious chops. Rex Walls alternately infuriates and breaks your heart. He’s hard, yet fragile — just like glass.
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