Late-summer catch-up: ‘The Glass Castle’

Image courtesy Lionsgate.

3/10 I have a pretty violent reaction when I see children in predicaments, so The Glass Castle was a bit of a difficult watch.

The movie follows the real-life upbringing of Jeanette Walls (Chandler Head, Ella Anderson and Brie Larson), who wrote the memoir on which the movie is based. Walls is raised by her alcoholic, abusive, quick-tempered, narcissistic, cultish father, Rex (Woody Harrelson), who can’t hold a job and uproots the family every few months to avoid debt collectors until Jeanette is 10. She and her three siblings eventually hatch a plan to leave Rex and their mother, Rose Mary (Naomi Watts).

The Glass Castle was clearly meant to explore the complicated relationship between Jeanette and Rex Walls, but the relationship it explores is not complicated. The film presents the redeeming qualities of and even lionizes a man who would rather put booze in his flask than food on his children’s plates. His wife, who would rather finish her painting than make sure her 3 year old daughter doesn’t catch fire while cooking herself lunch, is no better. It unapologetically romanticizes child abuse.

It’s outright shocking to see this material handled so poorly by writer/director Destin Daniel Crettin, who is known for Short Term 12, one of the most resonant depictions of childhood trauma in recent memory based on his own experiences as a camp councilor.

A passable movie hides underneath for anyone who can look past The Glass Castle’s reprehensible message — though why would you? — but it’s nothing to write home about. Crettin breaks up the timeline, showing Jeanette Walls’ upbringing parallel to her life as an MSNBC.com columnist, but to unclear effect. The segments are lumpy — we spend much more time with the young Jeanette than her adult self, a dynamic that reverses itself later on, begging the question as to why they’re split up at all. Unable to handle the harsh loose ends of abusive relationships, the film descends into poorly disguised coming-of-age tropes.

A viewer who could take the film more neutrally might be able to have a cathartic experience of some kind. The cast is fantastic. I just can’t see anything past how haphazardly the subject matter is handled.

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate and a syndicated columnist with the Lewisville Texan Journal. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions and suggestions to reelentropy@gmail.com.

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