An indie gem with powerful acting. And a dysfunctional family--just my kind of fun.
The Glass Castle
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12)
Screenplay: Cretton, Andrew Lanham (The Shack)
Cast: Brie Larson (Room), Woody Harrelson (War for The Planet of the Apes)
Runtime: 2 hr 7 min
by John DeSando
“Your values are all confused.” Rex (Woody Harrelson)
Fortunate we all are to have families that dysfunction in even small ways because they provide us with stories for a lifetime. Such is writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton’s The Glass Castle, a story based on Jeannette Wells’s (Brie Larson) family, overloaded by a dad, Rex,whose outsized personality, big brain, and capacity for booze dominates the four children through their adult years.
The commendable element infused by writers Cretton and Andrew Lanham is the realism enfolding odd characters, where bad things happen when dad drinks and kids have to forage for food while dad shrinks their little lives as he drinks. Having no food for days is not unusual for the Wells family, due to dad’s drinking up their meager holdings. However, the kids learn how to survive, a commendable achievement in a dependent world, even in later 20th century.
Jeannette’s and Rex’s relationship is the ballast of this sometimes surreal film; artist mother Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) is too busy painting to be bothered with their hunger or dad’s ranting. Jeannette’s early accident with the stove is a visceral reminder that the bohemian life can hold some dangerous consequences.
Yet Rose’s artistry is probably a source for Jeannette’s writing excellence as dad’s verbal fluidity is. Although he’s the smartest man his daughter ever knew, he just doesn’t stop talking. The film very smartly lets us see the dark and light sides of the characters, not unbefitting a West Virginia where talking is like breathing—colorful and crass but you have to do it to survive.
The central motif of the title is the glass castle Rex hoped to build, an energy efficient beauty with glass all around to let Nature in without letting the rough invade. Well, it never gets built, and the world does intrude. Happy for us because it’s a great story, just like our own.
While the reconciliation at the end seems too neatly tied up, most of the film has a grit to remind us that although family is not always fair, it may be the best life has to offer.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com