“The Glass Castle, on a technical level, is a damn-near perfect film.”
When I first saw the trailer for The Glass Castle I thought that the story was a little all over the place, but I had figured out the gist of it. I assumed that the film would be about a family who grew up poor, but despite that fact they made the best out of every situation and had a great upbringing. I then thought that the Brie Larson character was a daughter of the family who then had to make amends with her parents because they were poor maybe? Either way, all of this speculation was for nothing because The Glass Castle wasn’t about any of this; as a matter of fact it wasn’t really about anything. The Glass Castle is based on a book of the same name, and that book is the memoir of the main character Jeannette Walls. this means that The Glass Castle, instead of having a constant narrative, is essentially composed of snapshots from her life.
The Glass Castle is the movie that should be shown to all perspective parents as a ‘How Not To’ guide to raising children. I’m going to get real here for a second when I say that if you are looking for an uplifting film with a message of love and family, this is not the movie for you. the Glass Castle is composed of scene after scene of child abuse, and just when you think it will stop there’s more child abuse waiting around the corner. The Glass Castle never gives you a minute to breathe and think “what a happy family” because, despite what the characters were actually feeling, you couldn’t pry your attention away from what was happening on screen. Because of the fact that The Glass Castle was based on a memoir, the film kind of lacked a point. Sure there were things happening, but there was really no end goal for the film. We would constantly be jumping around to different periods in time, essentially getting snapshots of how shitty their lives were when they were kids. I don’t want to sound callous because if the person who wrote this book went through even half of what was shown in the movie then my heart goes out to them, but after a certain point I was saying to myself “I get it”. “Yeah, I know that these are shitty parents, can we get on with it?”. And I know even with my preface it sounds very harsh for me to say, but without giving the audience a “goal” that they can work toward in their head, the movie feels like an endless pool of shit that you have to wade through. And you can definitely argue that the children in the movie had to wade through that same pool of shit every day, and making the audience do the same is a good way for them to empathize with the characters, but the fact of the matter is that you are making a movie and movies should be entertaining (at least on some level). To add to this fact, The Glass Castle had quite a few weird tonal shifts that occurred almost on a dime. You could chalk this up to the characters in the film having a mental illness like Bipolar disorder (I sure did), but even then it was strange to be on the edge of your seat, covering your face with fear and then three seconds later the characters were laughing about it. I’m not going to say that occurrences like that made the struggles of the characters less important (for lack of a better word), but it was close to becoming that.
Now it may sound like I hated the movie from that last paragraph, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. To use a better word I would say that I was disappointed. I wasn’t disappointed because of expectations (as I said, the trailer was a terrible representation of the film), but because of how much this movie got right. The Glass Castle, on a technical level, is a damn-near perfect film. First of all the movie looked great. The direction in the movie managed to capture the bleak lives of these family members, and did so in a way that was equally sad and beautiful to watch. The colours in the film are very muted, but that all makes it seem almost like a oil pointing (which is fitting considering the mother is an artists). I also really liked the soundtrack in the film which used a lot of sombre folk music to really set the tone of what we were seeing. And God forbid I finish this review without speaking about the amazing performances given in The Glass Castle. I guess it would make the most sense to start with the younger versions of the cast and work my way up. Right off the bat you have Woody Harrelson who gives what might be the best performance of his career. As Rex he manages to play a character that you simultaneously hate, but at the same time you feel bad for. He is able to play both the raging alcoholic father, and the loving father who will do anything for his family. I’m not standing up for his character, I’m just saying it takes talent to leave the audience so torn throughout the film. You also have Naomi Watts who plays Rose Mary and who also does an amazing job. I feel that it is unfair to compare Watts to Harrelson because Harrelson definitely stole the show, but Watts was able to hold her own. As Rose Mary Naomi Watts was able to really show optimism in the face of impossible odds. Sure sometimes she broke down, but these moments only made her character seem all the more real. Up next you have all of the child actors in the film. Chandler Head and Ella Anderson both deliver amazing performances as Jeanette at different ages. Usually child actors aren’t the best, but these guys all managed to deliver performances that conveyed very complex emotions. It was amazing seeing Jeanette grow up and realize that all of the shit around her wasn’t normal, and actually having to make adult decisions at a very young age. Of course you also have Iain Armitage and Charlie Shotwell playing younger versions of Jeanette’s brother Brian, Olivia Kate Rice and Sadie Sink playing younger versions of Jeanette’s sister Lori, and Eden Grace Redfield and Shree Crooks playing younger versions of the baby of the family Maureen. Now I know that was a lot of names to go through but each and every one of those kids deserves a round of applause. The gravity that they brought to their performances was amazing, especially for children at such a young age who probably didn’t understand exactly what their characters were supposed to be feeling at times. Then you have older versions of all of the kids with Josh Caras playing Brian, Sarah Snook playing Lori, and Bridgette Lundy-Paine playing Maureen. All of these actors did an amazing job of playing characters who had to go through all of that shit when they were kids. When they get together for a family reunion of sorts you can see the conflict in their eyes; on one hand they hate that their parents put them through those terrible things, but on the other hand they are their parents. The best of these performances is definitely given by Brie Larson who plays the film’s main character, Jeanette Walls. It’s no surprise that Larson is given the most spotlight in the film (she is one of, if not the biggest name in it), but she doesn’t in any way squander it. What you have when you put all of these pieces together is a movie that would be a masterpiece, if not for the half-baked, rather unfocused story.
Overall The Glass Castle on a technical level is extraordinary. The film looks beautiful, it sounds beautiful, and every single performance given is beautiful. The problem is that the story, instead of being one coherent narrative, acts as snapshots of terrible points in these characters’ lives. The audience never feels like they’re working toward something, so instead we are just left floundering in shit.
I give the Glass Castle a B
This part of the review will contain spoilers for The Glass Castle. I mean, it is a true story, but still I’m going to spoil shit. Proceed at your own risk.
The one thing that really bugged me about The Glass Castle was the ending. For those who haven’t seen the movie but are still reading this for some reason, The Glass Castle ends essentially with our main character forgiving her father for all of the shit that he did, and sitting at a dinner table remembering the good times they had together. This rubbed me the wrong way because this guy was a real pice of shit. Hey, remember that time he scarred you by throwing you in a pool multiple times? Hey, remember that time that he took all of the money that your family had saying that he was going to buy food, but then came home like 12 hours later piss drunk? Hey, remember that time that he stole all of your money out of your piggy bank? Hey, remember that time that your brother got molested and he did nothing about it? These are things that, in my eyes, are unforgivable. But because he gambled and got you some tuition money and then “gave” you a star for Christmas he is okay? This man is a terrible human being, and an even worse father and yet you forgive him in the end. And it’s not even the fact that she forgave him in the end that gets me, it’s the fact that the movie tried to convince me that he was a good person. By showing us these clips of him “being good” we’re supposed to forget the countless times over the past two hours that he was a disgusting piece of filth that couldn’t provide for his own family? Maybe I’m projecting a little bit here but it was kind of insulting to me to end the movie on a “happy” note, when the rest of the movie essentially beat you down with sadness.