The Glass Castle
The Glass Castle is the long-awaited film adaptation of Jeannette Walls’s bestselling memoir of the same title. Walls’s book in the hands of director Destin Daniel Cretton is a compelling and agonising portrayal of the writer’s relationship with her alcoholic father, Rex Walls.
The massive commercial success of the memoir – it spent six years on the New York Times bestseller list, selling almost 3 million copies – indicates that this story resonates with many. Jeanette’s struggle to reconcile her fragmented perceptions of her father into one cohesive portrait breeds the frustration of understanding and accepting her childhood. Although the Walls family had a particularly unconventional upbringing, Jeanette’s quest to make peace with her experience is immediately relatable.
The film follows the Walls children in their early years, being packed up and taken on the road by their parents Rex and Rosemary, who live in romantic delusions and The Blue Goose – their battered car. The family are completely dominated by Rex, the children and Rosemary (Naomi Watts) are beguiled, seduced and victimised by his ebullient personality. Woody Harrelson’s performance as the father is impeccable. He portrays an intensely fractured character with a raw and honest depth. Most impressively, the actor elicits sympathy for the abuser in exposing the bitter loneliness that traps the alcoholic patriarch in a world beyond the reach of those who love him most.
Though Harrelson’s adroit performance saves Rex from total damnation, there is an unease in the quest for redemption imposed upon The Glass Castle as it is truncated into a feature film. Cretton chooses to splice Jeanette’s memoir of her childhood with the story of grown-up Jeanette, preparing for her wedding. The friction generated between these two stories prevents the movie from switching into fifth gear. As such, there is barely any momentum left for the final moments between father and daughter, and they betray the action that precedes them by feeling shallow and contrived.
The Glass Castle is a hard film to watch. The abuse it portrays is visceral yet subtle. Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of the archetypal charming domestic abuser is captivating, if sadly recognisable. His performance alone makes this a worthwhile watch – see it, be captivated by Rex, and find yourself grappling with the same impossible reconciliation as Jeanette Walls. Come prepared to cry.
The Glass Castle is released nationwide on the 6th October 2017.
Watch the trailer for The Glass Castle here: