★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki
I haven't read Jeannette Walls's 2005 autobiography The Glass Castle. I was meaning to read it before seeing The Glass Castle, but I ended up not reading it. However, I did read a very detailed synopsis of the book before seeing the film, so I did go into the film with a lot of knowledge surrounding it, hoping it would stay truthful to the book.
Unfortunately, this was not the case. There were a few major things that were left out of the film, & unlike the book, the film tried to do some things the book didn't do.
The Glass Castle focuses on Jeannette Walls (played as a child by Chandler Head, as a preteen by Ella Anderson, & as an adult by Brie Larson), the second-oldest child in the Wells family from Welch, West Virginia. Her older sister is Lori (played as a child by Olivia Kate Rice, as a preteen by Sadie Sink, & as an adult by Sarah Snook), her younger brother is Brian (played as a child by Iain Armitage, as a preteen by Charlie Stowell, & as an adult by Josh Caras), & her younger sister is Maureen (played as a baby by Charlie & Noemie Guyon, as a child by Eden Grace Redfield, as a preteen by Shree Crooks, & as an adult by Brigette Lundy-Paine). Their parents are Rex (played by Woody Harrelson) & Rose Mary (played by Naomi Watts). Rex is an alcoholic, while Rose Mary is an artist.
The family moves around every so often, from Phoenix to San Francisco to Battle Mountain, Nevada to Welch, West Virginia, where they settle in a three-room house without plumbing or heat. The children try to grow up in a home where alcohol-fueled abuse is common. Rex, when sober, tries to plan to build a glass castle for them to live, but never gets to it.
Years later, the four children live in New York. Jeannette is engaged to David (played by Max Greenfield), a yuppie, the complete opposite of who Jeannette once was. Some time later, Rex & Rose Mary move to New York & squat in an abandoned building on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The children aren't that happy to see them there, namely Jeannette, who still shows anger towards Rex & Rose Mary for raising them the way they did. But they must all come together in the end.
The cast is overall great. Larson, Harrelson, Watts & all of the child actors give excellent performances, with the 3 main actors giving some of their best performances yet. However, Greenfield is extremely miscast here. Greenfield, most known for his role as Schmidt on the sitcom New Girl, does not have the ability to pull off a dramatic performance & ends up being a caricature, who could've been more than that in the hands of a better actor.
Destin Daniel Cretton's direction is underwhelming. His last film, 2013's Short Term 12 (which also starred Brie Larson in her best performance yet), is one of the best films of the decade & one of my 10 favorite films of all time. However, he doesn't do justice to the source material. Some moments are well-directed, but some aren't. If anything, this shows that Cretton should go back to directing films that are original & small, like Short Term 12.
The screenplay by Destin Daniel Cretton & Andrew Lanham is extremely bad. I can safely tell you that had Cretton done the screenplay by himself, this film would be overall good. However, Lanham really brings the film down. The last film that Lanham co-wrote was 2017's The Shack, which was considered to be an awful film. The screenplay is too emotionally manipulative, & for the last 20% of the film, the film tries to make us like Rex & Rose Mary, after showing us for the first 80% of the film how horrible they are as parents. Thankfully, I didn't fall for that. Also, as I previously mentioned, the screenplay removes a few somewhat pivotal elements from the book. I hope to see a film that stays as true as possible to the book. Hopefully, that will come soon.
And the cinematography by Brett Pawlak is great. There are a few long-take shots in the film, as well as some excellent wide shots, & Pawlak shoots them really well.
This is, for me, the most disappointing film of the year. I never would've thought a film starring my favorite actress, Brie Larson, along with 2 excellent actors in Woody Harrelson & Naomi Watts, & directed by the director behind one of my all-time favorite films would have failed to be at least great. I was sadly mistaken.
The Glass Castle was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Sunday, August 20, 2017. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 127 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving family dysfunction, & for some language & smoking.