Based on the best-selling memoir, The Glass Castle follows the Walls family and their nomadic adventure through life. The audience joins them in their trek across the United States as they simultaneously battle poverty and their patriarch’s alcoholism. The family dreams up an innovative house design with glass walls and a winding staircase, meant to be their forever home, only to realize, as the tagline suggests, “Home goes wherever we go”.
The film leaps through time, showing an older Jeanette Walls (played by Brie Larson) as a successful journalist who prepares for her engagement, to beautifully haunting scenes of her youth.
The landscapes, captured by director Destin Daniel Cretton and cinematographer Brett Pawlak, feel as colorful and lifelike as Rose Mary Walls’s paintings that hang haphazardly on the walls. One cannot help but feel this film was crafted specifically for its award winning potential in both acting and cinematography. Each scene is seamlessly interwoven, relying on art and a swelling melody to form a cohesive story of Walls’s disheveled childhood.
At the heart of the film is Jeanette’s relationship with her father Rex, played by Woody Harrelson. Rex’s unconventional parenting attempts to empower Jeanette, proving that she can conquer “any monster that comes her way”. Ironically, her father and his dependence on alcohol becomes one of the monsters she must overcome. Each actress portraying Jeanette in different stages of her life, Chandler Head, Ella Anderson and Brie Larson, deliver nuanced performances that had the entire theatre in tears.
Despite the Wells family’s flaws, they are reliant on each other in a constant push and pull that they never truly outgrow. Rose Mary Wells explains this as she paints a single crooked Joshua tree in the California desert. She says, “It’s the struggle that gives it its beauty”.
As the characters sit in the final scene however, one could not help but feel part of that notion was left unfulfilled. Having read the book, it becomes clear that much of its grittier scenes, those struggles that give the story its beauty, were lost in the adaptation to screen. Although the film’s run time is roughly two hours, some of the character development and key moments were streamlined for sake of brevity.
This film takes the visceral nature of the Walls’s struggle to survive and condenses it into something different. The film is more carefully planned out, clear and crisp, akin to the dreamed up glass castle itself. In both the novel and film, (spoiler alert), the castle is never completed, and it’s a better story because of it. Giving the family the perfect ending without laying its full foundation forces what could have been a perfect interpretation to rely on its good looks and talent, rather than story. Although the film is well crafted, it’s the imperfect moments, and more of the Walls family, that the audience craves. Instead, the audience is left viewing them behind the glass and gloss of Hollywood.