A young girl comes of age in a dysfunctional family of nonconformist nomads with a mother who’s an eccentric artist and an alcoholic father who would stir the children’s imagination with hope as a distraction to their poverty.
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Writers: Destin Daniel Cretton (screenplay), Andrew Lanham (screenplay)
Stars: Brie Larson, Naomi Watts, Woody Harrelson
Closed Captioning and Descriptive Narration Available
Reflective and cumulatively poignant, Destin Cretton’s The Glass Castle lays bare the utmost truth about families: You will eventually morph into your parents. Adapted by Cretton (who already chronicled the domestic strokes of a resilient community of young people with Short Term 12) and Andrew Lanham from New York columnist Jeannette Walls’s best-selling memoir on her unconventional upbringing, The Glass Castle fondly wears this indisputable wisdom on its sleeve. It affirms—one painful, character-defining memory at a time—that our parents are both a source of unconditional love and a shameful secret that can only be shared among kin.
We first meet the successful 1980s Jeannette (Brie Larson, impressively striding an intricate line between composed and chaotic) working as a high-powered NYC journalist. Through well-dispersed flashbacks, we gradually see beyond her impeccable facade, composed of half-hearted lies to strangers, about her family origins. She and her three siblings were raised on the verge of homelessness and poverty by nomadic, negligent but free-spirited and oddly magnetic parents (a towering Woody Harrelson with bravura appeal and a fiercely eccentric Naomi Watts) who rejected all institutionalized comforts. Having no other choice, the kids had to enter adulthood prematurely, making a private pact to one day leave behind their West Virginia shack and all its broken promises. But can you really turn your back on who you are?
While the answer to this question is an obvious no, its revelation is no less heartrending. The richly built The Glass Castle—splendidly attentive to the details of the Walls’s eclectic childhood home and elevated by Ella Anderson’s performance as a young Jeannette—is on the overlong side, but it does right by a tough true story that begs neither contempt nor pity. Unlike the similarly themed Captain Fantastic, the film makes good on honoring the unexpected universality of even the most atypical families, embracing the crazy within them. It’s a movie with an emotionally stirring father-daughter story proudly at its core.