As young adults, it’s natural to second-guess your parents. As no parents are perfect, you’ll usually be right. Along the way, we still have choices and are subject to luck of the draw. When your kids write a best selling book about you, it’s not necessarily a good thing. Keep your curtains drawn in case the “60 Minutes” team pulls up at your door.
Jeanette Walls’ best selling memoir is so remarkable that it’s stranger than truth. Director Daniel Cretten, who co-wrote the script with Andrew Lanham, presents a credible representation of the pros, cons and not so simple experiences of being raised in a bohemian lifestyle not in any way resembling “Little House on the Prairie.”
Woody Harrelson delivers an Oscar worthy performance as Rex, father of four. The charismatic, but autocratic dreamer is full of bluster and grand gestures. In their alternative lifestyle, Rex puts the “fun” in “dysfunctional,” but falls short of accomplishment, stability or responsibility. However, his optimism is more than sufficient for his devoted, free-spirited and artistic wife Rose Mary (Naomi Watts).
Academy Award winner Brie Larson stars as the adult Jeannette, who somehow escaped from her childhood circumstances. However, it’s twelve year-old Ella Anderson, who plays Jeannette at a younger age who tugs at your heartstrings. This young girl is forced too quickly to grow up and be the only rational adult in this family of six.
At times, the script drags and the ending a bit unlikely, but this film might be the best and most thoughtful drama of the year. This case study features solid acting across the board. They all must deal with the alcoholic family patriarch who stirs their imaginations with anticipation, perhaps as a distraction to their extreme poverty and nomadic lifestyle.
Rex might be one of the most fascinating characters in film. With a larger than life personality, immensely likeable and eternally optimistic, he is filled with fun facts and homespun philosophies for every occasion. The family doesn’t just believe his stories, they so firmly believe in “him.” However, Rex is a temperamental and cruel con man.
With no sense of conscience, his dubious facts seem fashioned solely to suit his rants against the business world, government and society in general. In response to Jeanette’s request to attend school, he scolds, “You don’t learn from school, you learn from living, everything else is a damn lie!” As he repeatedly throws the frightened child into the water, he exclaims, “If you don’t want to sink, learn how to swim!”
Because the family believes so deeply in the person, they ignore the reality all around them. In a rickety, rusted station wagon, they continually move from place to place, just a step ahead of creditors and/or “The Feds.” At some point, you’d think Rose Mary’s maternal instincts for her neglected children would transcend her yearning for freedom, independence and the repeated false promises of her persuasive husband.
The conflicted children were inspired, but also permanently damaged by their nonconformist parents. Each child developed in his or her way into adulthood. But, this is a story of a very special father-daughter love-hate relationship. As a successful, but emotionally callous journalist, Jeannette realizes there is a place in her heart for Rex, as her father, while isolating and rebuking his deceit, neglect and abuse.
“Glass Castle” is 127 minutes and rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving family dysfunction, language and smoking. Jennifer Lawrence was originally set to star and produce but dropped out due to the production delays. However, this film has no shortage of terrific acting, including Robin Bartlett as an unforgettably revolting grandma.
It’s now official, life is unfair. Yet, nobody has a corner on all the world’s problems. Sure, in America’s 60s and 70s, Jeannette Walls came pretty close. But, if you really think about it, her best selling memoir of the Walls family proves the old adage, “You’re never a complete failure; you can always be used as a bad example.”
Ron’s Rating: A- Leigh’s Rating: C+