Friday, August 11, 2017

The Glass Castle

Last night I went to see The Glass Castle, the film adaptation of the best-selling memoir of the same name by Jeannette Walls.  It is the story of Jeannette's childhood of extreme poverty with a brilliant but alcoholic father and a self-absorbed mother who cares more about her art than her children as they move from place to place, often just one step ahead of the bill collectors or law enforcement.  We meet Jeannette (Brie Larson) in 1989 sitting in a taxi as she sees her father Rex (Woody Harrelson) and mother Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) digging through a garbage dumpster which embarrasses her.  Then we go back and forth between flashbacks to Jeannette's (played at various ages by Chandler Head and Ella Anderson) childhood experiences and her attempts in 1989 to leave her childhood behind with her job as a gossip columnist and her relationship with a wealthy banker (Max Greenfield), both of which clearly do not bring her any happiness.  Jeannette must ultimately come to terms with her past and make peace with her parents before she can movie forward with her life.  Most of what happens to the children is very difficult to watch but I found the story to be very compelling and authentic, particularly the scenes with Anderson who is brilliant as the young Jeannette.  The performances of Larson, Watts, and, especially, Harrelson are also outstanding.  I was impressed with how Harrelson is able to portray Rex as both dangerous and captivating, someone who is both feared and fiercely loved.  Many alcoholics have incredibly charismatic personalities and know how to manipulate the people around them which makes it difficult to completely abandon them even though they do despicable things and Harrelson nails it.  Some people might have a problem with the content but I didn't because I really loved the themes of resilience and forgiveness.  Just because Jeannette ultimately forgives her father for the horrific things he does to her and her siblings doesn't mean that he is absolved and I don't think the film glorifies his behavior.  Forgiveness is less about the person being forgiven and more about the one doing the forgiving.  Jeannette must reconcile with her father for her own sake rather than his and she can only live an authentic life if she acknowledges her past and the impact that her parents have had, for good or ill, on the person she has become.  However, I had several problems with this adaptation.  It is overly sentimental, in stark contrast to the memoir, with a very manipulative score that tells the audience what it should be feeling and it sometimes feels like a Lifetime original movie as a consequence.  I also didn't like the conclusion because it is too easy and abrupt, almost as if Cretton (who co-wrote the screenplay and directed the film) wanted to give us all a happy ending that is not earned.   I think the memoir is better at telling the story objectively but this film is ultimately worth seeing for the dynamic performances.

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