The Glass Castle can be summed up as follows: Cheerfully heart-breaking, but to leave it at that would be nothing short of criminal. This movie doesn’t just move you to tears but makes you understand why they’re falling and smile appreciatively.
The Glass Castle is based on the true life story of Jeanette Walls, following her from a young age to adulthood. The Walls family travel from place to place, essentially homeless as their father endlessly chases a dream of building their Glass Castle, so they can always sleep under the stars.
Speaking of stars, Woody Harrelson shines the brightest of all the cast. Portraying a father descending into the depths of alcoholism with a tragic kind of beauty. The Glass Castle is full of Jeanette’s conflicting memories of her father and his impact on her youth. Harrelson’s ability to be both sides of the coin at one time is nothing short of amazing; On one side he’s the devoted father who wants nothing but the best for his kids, on the other he is an angry and violent neglectful drunk set on a path of self-sabotage and to hell with the collateral.
Most characters are either a hero or a villain and Rex is painted as both, he is Jeanette’s childhood hero but also the source of so much anguish and sadness. One of the most powerful moments is when even though Rex stole Jeanette’s leaving fund when she planned move to New York and go to college, trapping her in Welch for a little longer, he turns up at her apartment to give her the money to stay in school when on the verge of having to drop out. Although there are many moments like this, this one really stood out.
The Glass Castle focuses on Jeanette’s conflicted past and the influences it had on her life growing up, the fulcrum of it all being her father. Jeanette starts out as starry eyed as her father, idolising him as a hero. He’s fun and playful and a silver lining/simpler times kind of guy. When Jeanette is burned in an accident her father is there to cheer her up and tell her not to be afraid. As time goes by the rest of the family lose faith in their old man, as he stubbornly chases his dream and refuses to accept reality. But not Jeanette, she believes in him way past everyone else’s expectations.
Watching the respect for her father die in her eyes is absolutely crushing. She stitches his wounds and convinces him to quit drinking and then everything changes on a dime. Seeing a young girl confront her mother and urge her to leave her husband is heartrending, Jeanette taking charge of her siblings (and her own) lives is not only heart breaking but incredibly inspiring. The sheer strength of will for a teenage girl to turn her family’s lives around is awe inspiring and Ella Anderson delivers it all perfectly! Woody Harrelson steals the show but Ella Anderson’s performance as teenage Jeanette is a very close second.
For every moment this story knocks you down, it offers you a hand up. It reminds you that it’s not all bad, there was good in her life too. Her father may have been a stubborn neglectful drunk but he was there when it mattered, when he needed to be. You get so lost in the story that when the credits begin to roll and you see the words “Based on a true story” once again, my jaw hit the ground. Knowing a woman had to endure so much and still come out on top is just breathtaking.
Woody Harrelson is without doubt the star of this show but the performances by the entire cast is captivating. You’re hard pressed to remember that these people are just playing a part and that they didn’t live through these things themselves. I feel special credit has to go to the children and their nothing short of stellar performances. The kids were incredible from start to finish, really owning their characters and engrossing you in their story. You almost don’t notice the transition from child to adult when Brie Larson really takes the stage.
The future Captain Marvel is certainly a marvel here with her heart-rending performance as adult Jeanette Walls. The final scenes of the movie are truly something special and it really shows the breadth of talent necessary to pull of these characters. Harrelson and Larson don’t just cover the extremes but every step in between, they aren’t just acting the part, they ARE the part.
The Glass Castle does an incredible job of surrounding so much happiness and heartache in some truly stunning scenery. The Walls family road trip through life takes shows them so many beautiful locations around the US that it’s no wonder he doesn’t want to give that up, no wonder that Mary Rose (played excellently from start to finish by Naomi Watts) is always inspired to paint. The settings are beautiful and to know that these locations were the real scenes of some of Jeanette’s most powerful memories makes them all the more magical. Tragic though some of them are, they all hold a little majesty in the places they were formed.
I can’t lie, when I originally read the blurb for The Glass Castle I rolled my eyes and said “Oh great, it’s gunna be one of those ‘coming of age’ movies…” I went into the theatre with just a little trepidation and dread that the next two hours and seven minutes of my life are going to be spent counting the stitches in my seat cushion for something to do.
I can happily say that I was delightfully surprised; I was enthralled in the story from beginning to end, left speechless by what I saw, so much so that it’s taken a week to process and write this review.
The Glass Castle hits cinemas Oct 6, I implore you to go and see it. To have your faith in humanity so utterly destroyed and then restored in 2hrs is truly amazing.