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Film Review: ‘The Glass Castle’ Shows Larson and Harrelson at the Top of Their Game

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The Glass Castle image

glass castleDestin Daniel Cretton captured the eyes of movie lovers everywhere with his début film “Short Term 12.”  Delivering star Brie Larson to our lives, the film was a monumental achievement and had all of us ready for whatever he chose to give us next.  That time has come with his adaptation of Jeannette Wall’s best-selling memoir “The Glass Castle” and with bumps along the way, the viewer is treated to a heartfelt and moving portrait of family and forgiveness.  With Brie Larson in tow, and a magnificent performance from Woody Harrelson, “The Glass Castle” manages to get over the finish line.

The Glass Castle” tells the story of Jeannette Walls (played by Brie Larson), who recollects the adventures of her eccentric, resilient, and tight-knit family.  The film looks at Jeannette during many points of her life.  Jeannette is influenced by the joyfully wild nature of her deeply dysfunctional father (played by Woody Harrelson) and then finds the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.

It’s interesting to see what director Cretton can achieve with a budget.  “The Glass Castle” is polished, slick, and wonderfully framed as it tells its story.  Also taking writing duties, along with Andrew Lanham, the missteps come in the form of the details they choose to focus.

the glass castle
The Glass Castle – Naomi Watts and Brie Larson

The writer’s agenda is to clearly have the audience go through the love to hate and back to love relationship that Jeannette herself went through.  They choose to shine a light on Rex as a free-spirit at first, just moving through the wind and bringing his family along for the ride.  The duo then chooses to show his flaws like his battle against alcoholism, an underlined rage, and his relentless abuse against his wife and children.  What becomes immensely strange is that they attempt to cover that up with revelations of sexual abuse and a scene where college is saved because New Yorkers don’t know how to hustle.  Was that supposed to excuse his rhetoric?  It ends up leaving us confused.

At 127 minutes, the film is bloated to a challenging sit at times.  When you consider so many scenes and side plots that could have been cut out, I’m convinced there is a 95-minute masterpiece in its midst.  Pair that would an overwhelming and overplayed musical score by Joel P. West, and the film manages to take overstay its welcome.

There are bright spots and they exist in its cast.  Oscar-winner Brie Larson hones in on Jeannette’s anger and convictions as an adult woman with authority.  Larson showcases again, why she’s one of our gifted talents in the industry.

Should be ordained as a national treasure, Woody Harrelson delivers one of his finest turns yet as Rex, the multi-layered and complex father.  Though put through the emotional ringer regarding our own personal feelings about Rex, Harrelson shows the internal battle that rips through his life and his fear to face it.  Harrelson’s performance is worthy of all Oscar consideration and should not be forgotten.

Naomi Watts‘ eccentric mother is a joy to behold while Max Greenfield‘s comedic timing presents a needed balance to the dour tale.  As Young Jeannette, Ella Anderson is a name we should learn, and watch out for in the very near future.

This is strange one to decide upon if I’m honest.  If you’ve seen your fair share of dysfunction in your own family, and struggle with it daily, there’s a beautiful message being told, even among all the noise.  The central themes are apparent and there’s surely something you can take with you.  How much do you weigh the technical construct against the feelings that are being felt?  The sibling love between the kids is an inspiration, and you can chalk that up to the works of Sarah Snook, Josh Caras, and Brigette Lundy-Paine or you can say the script gave them plenty to work with.

Overall, “The Glass Castle” is a solid outing with some very visible problems.  You can choose to surrender to it or you can decide to be irate about them.  Either way, you’d be right.  I chose the former.

“The Glass Castle” is distributed by Lionsgate and opens in theaters on Aug. 11.

GRADE: (★★★)

And be sure to check the Oscar Predictions to see where “THE GLASS CASTLE” ranks.



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Written by Clayton Davis

Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of Born in Bronx, NY to a Puerto Rican mother and Black father, he’s been criticizing film and television for over a decade. Clayton is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association where he votes and attends the kick off to the awards season, the Critics Choice Awards. He also founded the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association, the first Latino-based critics’ organization in the United States. He’s also an active member of the African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, International Press Academy, Black Reel Awards, and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Clayton has been quoted and appeared in various outlets that include The New York Times,, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.


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