A young girl comes of age in a dysfunctional family of nonconformist nomads with a mother who’s an eccentric artist and an alcoholic father who would stir the children’s imagination with hope as a distraction to their poverty.
Based on Jeannette Walls’ 2005 memoir of the same name, “The Glass Castle” is a thoughtful drama that expertly tackles issues like abuse, trauma, unconditional love, and the power of forgiveness. It’s beautifully shot and acted, boasting of a stellar cast including Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, and Naomi Watts.
The film opens in 1989 in New York City, where Jeannette (Larson) works as a gossip columnist for New York Magazine. One night, while driving home with her fiancé David (Max Greenfield), she sees her parents Rex (Harrelson) and Rose Mary (Watts) digging through trash on the side of the street. Ashamed, she ignores them. Through a series of flashbacks, we come to understand Jeannette’s rocky relationship with her parents.
She, along with her three siblings, were raised by an charismatic, imaginative father (Harrelson as Rex Walls) with an alcohol problem and an artistic, dreamy mother (Watts as Rose Mary Walls) who, for the most part, couldn’t be bothered to leave her painting to feed her children. When he’s sober, Rex is a kind, inventive father who encourages his children to dream big and think outside the box. When he’s drunk, however, he’s neglectful, abusive, and as Walls puts it in one particularly poignant scene – “cruel”.
The Walls siblings experience sexual abuse and betrayal at the hands of relatives, horrific, accident-related injuries and overwhelming hunger. Yet, neither parent ever express remorse, instead telling their children that what doesn’t kill them makes them stronger. Resilient and hopeful, Jeannette and her siblings eventually make their way out of their bleak circumstances – but struggle to cope with their homeless, idiosyncratic parents. It’s only when Jeannette is able to understand – and accept – her father’s “demons” and misguided love that she’s able to forgive him and embrace who she’s meant to be.
Ultimately, “The Glass Castle” is a hopeful, compelling story that drives home some important truths. Love, flawed as it may be, is powerful enough to heal even the deepest of wounds. Forgiveness, begrudging as it may be, can bring closure to the darkest of circumstances – and reconciliation to even the most dysfunctional families. However, this film is not Dove Approved due to elements that go too far in violence and language.