We all recall those hazy, adolescent memories of a family outing that stretched until sunset, laced with heated moments and inevitable bickering but ultimately transpired as one of those nostalgic recollections that tugs on our laughter lines. Pushing that sentiment further is Hawaiian born filmmaker, Destin Daniel Cretton, who effectively acknowledges the repercussions of a bittersweet childhood in his latest biographical drama ‘The Glass Castle’, narrating the true life of the bohemian Walls family.
Based on an autobiography of the same name, Jeannette Walls (Brie Larson) leads a precarious life caused by the unethical upbringing from her non-conformist parents, Rex (Woody Harrelson) and Rose Mary (Naomi Watts). As a travelling family of six, The Walls search for the perfect location to build their “glass castle”; a paradise residence that symbolises hope for a family struggling to adapt within society.
Told through a present-day timeline with a series of flashbacks, Cretton’s coming-of-age drama focuses on protagonist Jeannette, depicting “a day in the life of” the Walls family as they scurry from location to location. Whilst viewing Rex and Rose Mary’s actions from a child’s perspective, a thin line between tough love and abuse emerges as a theme that’s established early on and features abruptly and sporadically throughout, thus causing a constant duality between love and control that leaves the audience pondering over their questionable nurturing skills. This arduous conflict becomes one of the strongest components to ‘The Glass Castle’, exposing a very delicate balance between affection and psychological maltreatment.
Further highlights of this weighty biography are potent artists Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts, uniting as a vigorous trivium that passes most of the film as captivating. With Jennifer Lawrence previously tied to the role of Jeannette, Cretton made a favourable choice in collaborating with Larson after working with her on the critically acclaimed, ‘Short Term 12’, showcasing her Oscar-winning talents alongside her raw and ‘Rampart’ co-star, Woody Harrelson. The electric relationship between Rex and Jeannette demanded a sturdy conjunction between character and actor, which was essential to the storyline’s development and maintained from start to finish in a wonderful display of passion and intellect. Naomi Watts’ performance of Rose Mary was somewhat of a stand-out display of experienced acting in a modest supporting role, detaching from her accustomed sun-kissed roles of playing mothers and alluring psychologists, to a role of great substance that left a gleaming impression. Using three actors per Walls sibling established an efficient progress in age and another nod to conveying the biography’s authenticity, with the added bonus of using second time on-screen siblings Shree Crooks and Charlie Shotwell from 2016’s ‘Captain Fantastic’.
While ‘The Glass Castle’ excels in cast and credible material, the consistency in tone between the current day and the reminiscent flashbacks causes a stalling effect between the two that interrupts its immersive quality. Larson’s Jeannette remains relatively subdued throughout the drama, causing points of frustration and a general need for relief with the exception of one incredibly satisfying scene. With the production addressing hard topics of this calibre, we search for alleviation that rarely comes to aid, and when it does it comes at a fleeting moment drowning in anguish, where a nervous giggle is all we have to muster.
Undeterred by these undermining bumps in the road, Cretton’s first mainstream feature film shows his skill to target a story with provocative messages and immerse his production into disclosing the important principles. The script being penned by Cretton, Jeannette Walls and Andrew Lanham, who composed the playbook for The Shack, all added credence to the validity of the true accounts being recreated on screen. Cinematographer Brett Pawlak, also from ‘Short Term 12’, has a charming ability to capture a family’s sincerity and strength in unity through warm-toned colour grading and expressive wide angles. Cretton has shrewdly resided with a team he trusts to deliver this level of poignancy, and shows great prospect for any promising director.
With some informative post-credit scenes with the real Walls family, that acts as testament to a wonderfully selected cast, ‘The Glass Castle’ provides some incredibly touching moments depicting a troubled yet loving father and daughter relationship, perfect at delivering those nostalgic moments. Cretton provides a clever link between imagination and harsh realism whilst tying in the audience’s personal memories of family life, despite the tone becoming redundant. The morals of Jeannette Walls’ adaptation proves how the complexity of our psyche can cause our love to be expressed in various manners, but still exists no matter how unnaturally it’s given. A powerful family tale that proves home goes wherever the family goes, and a title that sounds magical in Spanish: ‘El Castillo de Cristal’.
Rating: 7.0 out of 10
Directed by: Destin Daniel Cretton
Starring: Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, Sarah Snook, Max Greenfield