THE GLASS CASTLE (Destin Daniel Cretton). 127 minutes. Opens Friday (August 11). See listing. Rating: NN
The Glass Castle reunites writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton with his Short Term 12 star Brie Larson for an adaptation of Jeannette Wallss memoir of her hardscrabble childhood.
The author and her siblings were raised in abject poverty by an alcoholic, resentful father (Woody Harrelson) and a deluded artist mother (Naomi Watts), who ended up squatting in an abandoned building on Manhattans Lower East Side in the late 80s, when Jeannette was working for New York magazine as a gossip columnist.
The Glass Castle plays as a weird mirror image of Cretton and Larsons earlier collaboration: its also about children who bear the scars of their parents neglect or abuse, but here the children havent escaped.
Cretton cuts between the adult Jeannette in 1989, where shes a successful journalist engaged to a Wall Street charmer (Max Greenfield), and the Jeannette of the 60s and 70s, a child slowly beginning to understand how deeply damaged her family is. But the shifting chronology undercuts the films emotional arcs and muddies key narrative points. (Theres also the misstep of dropping Larson into the flashbacks as the teenage Jeannette late in the film, when shes so thoroughly established as the older version of the character.)
If you watched any one scene of The Glass Castle, youd think it came from a solid movie. The film looks and sounds like Oscar bait, featuring strong actors in clearly drawn roles, and the father-daughter relationship at its core leads to some powerful moments between Harrelson, as the volatile Rex, and Ella Anderson, who plays the pre-teen Jeannette. Larson and Greenfield have some fine moments, too, with Greenfield investing his thankless role with unexpected energy.
But to experience the whole thing in sequence is to watch two very long hours of prefabricated, ultimately predictable drama that lacks the texture of Wallss writing or the power of her hard-won insight. All the pieces are in place for an illuminating examination of the ways in which children define themselves as separate from their parents, and how we all make our own futures with the tools were given.
But as much as I wanted it to work, it just doesnt.