“The Glass Castle” is a movie adaptation of a novel by Jeannette Walls. I understand this may scare off potential moviegoers, as movie adaptations of books are commonly criticized for removing key scenes, failing to develop characters and generally being worse than the books they are attempting to recreate. “The Glass Castle” tells an emotional story about growing up in poverty, being raised by an alcoholic father and coping with both situations.
The film’s greatest strength is Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of Jeannette’s father Rex. Harrelson does a phenomenal job in the role of Rex, and anyone who read the book will likely have imagined a character similar to his. Harrelson adeptly shifts between acting as a loving father trying to impart wisdom to his children to a raging alcoholic struggling to support his family. Rex is constantly torn between his desire to be a good father for his children and coping with the harsh realities of living in poverty.
Rex’s preferred coping mechanism is alcohol, although there are scenes where we see hope for him. He discusses building a glass castle for the family to live in. He even goes to the trouble of sketching detailed blueprints of every room. As the film moves on, it becomes apparent to both Jeannette and the audience that this castle will never actually be built. Throughout the story however, Jeannette continues to give her father second chances. The film shows how difficult it can be to sever a family bond, even if it may be the best thing for both people.
Throughout the film, Jeanette’s attitude toward her father constantly fluctautes. She is often either forgiving him and enjoying their time together or being furious with him for making yet another mistake. Jeannette’s attitude toward her father appears conflicted and rightly so. However the director portrays her father in ways that will likely lead audiences to root for Rex,
As a whole the movie shows Rex in a more positive light than he deserves, often highlighting the warm fuzzy moments he shares with Jeanette. Toward the end the film does a better job of showing Rex’s true conflicted nature but emphasizes more of the emotional moments.
Unlike most movie adaptations, “The Glass Castle” actually makes a huge improvement on the book in a specific area. For a fuller understanding of Jeannette’s story, the book is undoubtedly the more complete option. However, for those interested in understanding the story, the movie does a better job of pacing events so audiences will not lose interest. The director made the decision to flash forward to the present periodically, whereas the book largely leaves this section until the end.
Those looking for a realistic account of growing up in poverty will likely be satisfied with “The Glass Castle.” The film benefits from Harrelson’s excellent performance, and will undoubtedly leave audiences with a slew of emotions. Beyond that however, the film does not do much to separate itself from others of its kind.