4/10
Awkward and disappointing big-screen adaptation of the gripping memoir
12 August 2017
"The Glass Castle" (2017 release; 127 min.) brings the story, "based on a true story" as we are reminded when the movie opens, of Jeannette Walls' upbringing in a dysfunctional family. As the movie opens, we Jeannette, all grown up, is having dinner with her fiancé in New York. On the way home after dinner, she sees her mom and dad, obviously homeless, rummaging the streets of Manhattan. We then go back in time, it's probably the 1950s. Jeannette's mom is busy doing her paintings, so Jeannette is forced to fix lunch for herself, and accidentally sets herself on fire. It's not long before Jeannette's dad decides that her hospital stay has lasted long enough, and he sneaks her out... At this point we're 10 min. into the movie, but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you';; just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this movie marks the reunion between writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton and actress Brie Larson--they did the under-appreciated "Short Term 12" together a few years ago. Here they tackle a difficult task, namely how to bring the 2005 iconic memoir of Jeannette Walls to the big screen. I read the memoir, and there is a reason it is considered an absolute classic. It is crucial then to find the right performers for the key roles, and I believe that casting Woody Harrelson in the key role of Rex (Jeannette's crazy and drunk dad) was a mistake, for no other reason than Harrelson (whom I love otherwise) is simply too old for the role (he is mid-50s in real life). But there are other problems too: some of the scenes look so... staged! You can practically hear the director yell "And... action!", check out the awkward arm-wrestling match between Rex and David (Jeannette's fiancé). Last, but certainly not least, is that some of the material is so inherently unlikable that it feels wrong seeing it on the big screen (as opposed to reading it, where you can process it in the confines of your own privacy). Each time Rex says "Things are going to be different this time around", you just want to slap him straight. On the plus side, there are some terrific performances, none more so than the two actresses who play Jeannette at a younger age. Given the long shadow of the 2005 memoir, maybe no film could ever have done justice to the memoir, who knows. One thing is for sure: this particular movie is an awkward and ultimately disappointing adaptation.

"The Glass Castle" opened wide this weekend, and I really was looking forward to this. The Saturday early evening screening where I saw this at here in Cincinnati was attended okay. Yet I can't see this playing in theaters all that long, to be honest. The movie is simply not that good, and in a few weeks will be buried by other new movies. If you've read the book, approach this with caution, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray.
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