Combustible Celluloid
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With: Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, Ella Anderson, Chandler Head, Max Greenfield, Josh Caras, Charlie Shotwell, Iain Armitage, Sarah Snook, Sadie Sink, Olivia Kate Rice, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Shree Crooks, Eden Grace Redfield
Written by: Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham, based on the book by Jeannette Walls
Directed by: Destin Daniel Cretton
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic content involving family dysfunction, and for some language and smoking
Running Time: 127
Date: 08/11/2017

The Glass Castle (2017)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Breaking Down Walls

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Based on Jeannette Walls' bestselling memoir, this drama could have been edgier, but it settles on a certain genre type, cozily presenting itself as a four-hankie weepie graced with fine performances.

In The Glass Castle, Jeanette (Brie Larson) has an uncomfortable dinner out with her fiance, David (Max Greenfield), and on the way home, spots her parents — Rex (Woody Harrelson) and Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) — digging through the trash. She remembers her childhood, with her two sisters and her brother, going on the run every time her father lost a job.

She remembers the wondrous times, such as planning the "glass castle" that they hoped to build someday, or Rex letting the children choose their very own star as a Christmas present. But she also remembers the difficult times, including the lack of food, Rex's drinking, and the time Jeanette burned herself as a chid while boiling hot dogs. Back in the present, Jeanette's troubles start again when she finds that her parents have followed her and her siblings to New York.

One might think that writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton — based on his previous film, the excellent, emotionally complex and nuanced Short Term 12 — would give the same treatment to The Glass Castle. But like any classic tearjerking melodrama, it's painted with broader, more basic strokes.

Each scene is designed more towards coaxing a response from the audience rather than finding a deeper, more vivid truth about the characters. Nevertheless, the great cast is treated well, and given many big moments to shine. Woody Harrelson finds a fine line between his extremes of abuse and wonder, and Naomi Watts emerges with her own personality, her own desires, and is more than just a "wife."

Brie Larson ties it all together, shuffling through stages of betrayal, rage, hope, and love. The exceptional Sarah Snook has less to do here, but manages a few small, powerful moments. These performances are the reason to watch.

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