Life is the journey that we take in our vessel of blood and consequence, but love is what we live for. Regardless of whether you ever fall in the proverbial romantic love, your life will likely revolve around it. The most powerful form of that love is often the bond between a parent and a child. It’s a bond that has encompassed many a feature and will continue to do so until the end of time. It’s also the bond that defines ‘The Glass Castle’.
Named ‘The Glass Castle’ for a planned home that would never be, this true story follows Jeanette Walls (a brilliant Brie Larson) and her relationship with her father from the early 1970’s through the end of the 1980’s. It’s a relationship that would cause her great pain, while occasionally bringing her beautiful memories. It brought her unending wisdom. Yet, quite often stood in the way of her progress. It’s an extreme version of a parents tough love, but any child of a rough father will connect with the mixed emotions on display.
The parallel narratives of the story run with Jeanette growing up in the most perfunctory way. Her father, Rex (an Oscar worthy Woody Harrelson), is an idealist in a world of cynical capitalists. He doesn’t believe in blind materialism and the trappings of the Wall Street run society. So, he moves his kids all over the place to avoid the trappings of expenses and bills to a system he does not believe in. In a way, this life is exciting and a very free way to look at the beautiful country we live in. It’s also a way to make children go without life’s basic necessities.
The biggest problem with her father is not his idealism though. It’s his never ending alcoholism and chain smoking. The kids go without food for days at a time, while Rex drinks his life away. He makes an attempt to stop at one point, but it’s short lasted and the kids begin to resent him as they grow up. So much so, they all plan ways to escape home when they reach the cusp of adulthood.
This growing up narrative is juxtaposed with Jeanette working for New York Magazine in the 1980’s and preparing to get married to the very type of person her father despises. While this part is well acted and pivotal to the overall narrative, it’s also the weakest part of the film. It often feels like your just being brought back to this point to have some way to remind you of who’s reflections we are baring witness to. When in actuality we just feel like we’re being ripped away from the more interesting part of the movie. Still, it works, Brie Larsen is wonderful, and it leads to a cliche’, but moving bit of emotional catharsis.
Overall, the movie has its issues, but I mostly liked it quite a bit. The performances are uniformly excellent, including Naomi Watts as the mother who can’t seem to leave her husband’s downward spiral. There is a lot of reality tangled up in this movies family drama theatrics and that reality comes across in a beautiful way. Everybody’s life is their own personal story and many of our stories are similar, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth telling.