The Glass Castle Movie Review
Glass is flat, which means The Glass Castle lives up to its name. That’s a bit harsh—strong performances and a fascinating true story largely outweigh the drama’s deficiencies – but it’s hard to ignore that the movie misses an easy opportunity to be riveting stuff.
Writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton reunites with his Short Term 12 star Brie Larson for this biopic, which has author Jeannette Walls (Larson) looking back on her turbulent childhood, which consisted of living in extreme poverty thanks to her eccentric parents (Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts) and especially her father, an alcoholic.
Larson gives a strong performance, though many of her “as an adult” scenes are the weakest part of the movie. In these scenes, set in 1989 where a successful Jeannette lives in a sterile New York City, is engaged to Schmidt from New Girl and looks down on her parents with contempt, Cretton tends to lean on melodrama, offering little insight into the complex emotions that haunt his lead protagonist. Her ultimate life decisions don’t entirely make sense based on the way Cretton portrays her, and the woeful casting of Max Greenfield, who apparently can only look and act like Schmidt even when cast in a serious drama, hampers things further.
And yet, when The Glass Castle moves into the past, the movie largely works. “Thrive” would be too strong a word—for whatever reason, Cretton is unable to make the story click in a way that grips you the way the book apparently does (it’s one of my wife’s favorites, but she too admits the film feels flat)—but the scenes that feature young Jeannette (played by Chandler Head and then Ella Anderson) are generally interesting. The scene-stealer is Woody Harrelson, who plays a complex, sort-of-like-him, sort-of-hate-him drunk who means well but is terrible at everything else. Even if the script and direction aren’t Oscar caliber, Harrelson carries much of the film.
The Glass Castle isn’t a great movie. It’s a bit too long, and worse, it fails to get under the skin of its protagonist—something that is critical to do to pull off the third act in convincing fashion. But thanks to Larson and especially Harrelson, The Glass Castle is able to Windex away just enough of the crud to see something worthwhile. If only marginally.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.