The Glass Castle SPOILER-FREE Review

I have been interested in The Glass Castle for a while, even if I wasn't jumping up and down with excitement for it. The cast is fantastic. Woody Harrelson is one of these actors who never reached the same A-level status of say a Brad Pitt or a Leonardo DiCaprio, but he can absolutely match their performances. He's always fantastic in anything he's in. Brie Larson is quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses working today. She was absolutely breathtaking in Room, and undoubtedly deserved her Oscar win. Naomi Watts is also a great actress. So the talent was clearly there. While this is based upon a true story, it looked very similar to Captain Fantastic, a movie that came out last year that I really liked. While it may be unfair to compare the two, since The Glass Castle is a true story and Captain Fantastic is fictitious, the comparison immediately came to mind. Walking into the film, I wasn't sure what I was going to come out thinking. But, luckily, I was very pleasantly surprised. The Glass Castle is a powerful and moving film about family dysfunction, led by outstanding performances from Woody Harrelson and Brie Larson.

Jeanette Walls (Larson) reflects on her difficult upbringing due to her parents' unique view on life and education.

One of The Glass Castle's strongest aspects is how it takes an experience unique to a small amount of people, and makes it so relatable to the masses. 99% of the people watching this movie have not had an upbringing like Jeanette's, but the film crafts the story in a way that you can form parallels to your own life. This isn't just telling the story of someone's childhood; it becomes a commentary on the ups and downs of family life itself. And that's where The Glass Castle becomes something more profound. Some may have seen this relatability as a simplification of child abuse. But I would disagree. The movie never painted what happened in the film as a good thing. It never tried to spin that the parents for justified for how they chose to raise their kids. Instead, they showed that, when you boil it all down, the dysfunction between Jeanette and her parents stem from the same place as other people's parental issues. Instead of isolating the audience by showing us something completely and utterly foreign to us, they chose to make it relatable so that we could draw comparisons to our own lives. Instead of this simply being a case study, it becomes something that we can learn from, and help gain perspective on our own lives and problems. That may not work for everyone, but I thought it was incredibly masterful.

What hammers this in, and what I walk away thinking about the most, is the performances. Woody Harrelson is phenomenal in this movie. He brings such range and depth to his character, that I was in awe watching him. He also brings a relatability that was crucial to making his character work. We easily could have looked at Rex Walls as some crazy nutjob with an eccentric personality and out-there beliefs, but Harrelson played the character in a way that we came to understand him. We didn't necessarily condone everything he did, but we understood why he thought the way he thought, and why he did the things he did. That's not an easy line to walk for an actor, and I think Harrelson did a tremendous job in the role. I was also surprised by how good Brie Larson was. I didn't think she would be in the movie all that much. She has collaborated with the director in the past, so I assumed her inclusion was simply obligatory. I figured she'd only have a handful of scenes in the movie. Not only is she in it a fair amount, but her performance was so dynamic that it simply reaffirms how great of an actress I think she is. This could have been a throwaway role, but Larson worked with director Destin Daniel Cretton to make the most of the character. She has some really powerful scenes, where Larson nails the performance. The final shot of the movie, which I won't spoil, could've easily been a throwaway moment. But Larson makes it one of the shining examples of quiet beauty in the film, and it was just really striking. 

This isn't a perfect movie. I think there is some pacing issues throughout the first two acts. It's not a major issue, but there were times that I thought the story was slowing down too much and needed to pick back up. While I loved the story they told, I feel like there's also a lot more to it that they didn't explore. There's only so much you can tell in a film without overcrowding it, so I understand why they needed to cut things out. And I think what they did focus on was incredibly effective. But there is more to the story that I wish we could have seen, stuff that would have made it darker and more twisted. But again, I understand why they had to cut stuff out. The ending resolution does happen too quickly. The movie reaches a point of no return, and while we needed to have the resolution, it felt awfully convenient and rushed. There needed to be a little more breathing room for the resolution to come about more naturally. The narrative also shifts halfway through. For the beginning of the film, the focus is the family as a whole. Then, around the halfway mark, it switched to being focused on Jeanette's individual experience. The movie as a whole could have been even more effective had they kept with a single driving narrative, instead of starting out broad and then later narrowing.

Overall, The Glass Castle is a surprising thought-provoking and moving film. The movie takes an experience foreign to most audiences, and makes it relatable. While some may see this as an oversimplification of the source material, I saw this as a way to not alienate the audience, and to make it a richer story. By doing this, the filmmakers allow for the audience to make connections to their own lives and their own family problems, instead of simply watching a case study put to screen. Woody Harrelson and Brie Larson turn in phenomenal performances. They both navigate thin lines, where both characters could have come across as surface level, but both actors brought an incredible amount of depth to their respective roles. The pacing isn't always razor sharp, and the focus of the narrative is a little broad at the beginning. There also seems to be more to the story than shown on film, but that was cut out as a normal part of adapting a story, and I liked the story they ended up telling. In the end, The Glass Castle is a powerful movie flying under the radar, and is certainly worth seeing. 


What do you think? Have you seen The Glass Castle? Did you like the film? Leave your (spoiler-free) thoughts in the comments section below. 

Written by: Nate
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