Film Review: The Glass Castle

Director and co-writer Destiny Daniel Cretton’s The Glass Castle is an engaging watch, thanks to its good performances and good storytelling.

Jeanette has an unconventional childhood. As an adult about to introduce her partner to her parents, Jeanette reflects on her upbringing with her eccentric artist mother and her alcoholic father…

Based on Writer Jeanette Walls’s memoirs, The Glass Castle focuses on the unusual childhood of the author, and in particular the relationship she has with her father. The film shows both the positive and negative of Jeanette’s upbringing, and the impact this has on her adult life.

The film commences with Jeanette as an adult in the late 1980s. It then diverges into two main strands; the story of the protagonist’s upbringing, and her current relationship with her family. Her childhood is explored through a series of lengthy flashbacks, at the same time as her present-day story progresses. This style of storytelling works well. Aspects of Jeanette’s childhood are revealed gradually. Some of these are genuinely horrendous, whilst others provide humour or simply a very human experience.

A prevailing theme of the film is the many shades of the characters. The film does not offer easy protagonists and antagonists, instead offering characters that are nuanced and difficult to categorise. A prominent message is that the vast majority of people are neither holy good or bad but sit on a spectrum. Whilst Jeanette’s parents are undoubtedly neglectful, they are not portrayed as villains, but complex characters with their own issues.

Brie Larson delvers a solid performance as the adult Jeanette. Ella Anderson is great as the young version of the character. Woody Harrleson is strong and lively as Rex. He is ably supported by Naomi Watts.

The final third of the film misses the pep of earlier sequences. Nevertheless, The Glass Castle is successful in its depiction of characters who are both frustrating and empathetic.