The Glass Castle doesn’t just beg the question of where the line between eccentric and irresponsible parenting lies; it dives headlong into the murky grey area in between. This is where we remain for the majority of the film, with Cretton and Lanham never committing to a decisive reading of Rex and Rose Mary. This didn’t have to be such a crucial flaw; as the film is adapted from Jeannette Walls’ own memoir, a certain amount of ambivalence toward the parents is understandable. But what’s neither understandable nor redeemable is The Glass Castle’s failure to consistently inhabit Jeannette’s perspective.
Instead, it’s the clumsy voice of the filmmakers that attempts to guide us, making brief yet troubling forays into the regions of black and white that flank the grey. They offer an optimistic nostalgia-infused opening act and a convenient and unearned accepting conclusion. Neither are sold with conviction.
The Glass Castle is perhaps all the more disappointing for those who are fans of the talents involved. It all but squanders Brie Larson, ostensibly the lead yet actually on screen all too briefly. Briefer still – and far between – are the moments when her performance is allowed out of second gear. For the most part it’s cold and restrained, which, though sometimes suited to Jeanette’s motivation, is frustrating from such a powerful actor and a director who knows better.
Stylistically The Glass Castle is very polished – a symptom of Cretton’s working with a larger budget – yet while this works for portraying the outwardly glamorous life of an NYC power couple, it’s ill-suited to the rustic flashbacks.
The Glass Castle is a serviceable and engaging account of Walls’ story, though you can almost see the Hollywood machination at work. The raw and urgent energy of Short Term 12, however, is nowhere to be seen.
CAST: Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, Ella Anderson
DIRECTOR: Destin Daniel Cretton
WRITERS: Destin Daniel Cretton (screenplay), Andrew Lanham (screenplay), Jeannette Walls (based upon the book by)
SYNOPSIS: A young girl is raised in a dysfunctional family constantly on the run from the FBI. Living in poverty, she comes of age guided by her father who distracts her with magical stories to keep her mind off the family’s situation.