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"THE GLASS CASTLE"
(2017) (Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: As a young woman tries to get up the courage to tell her father about her pending engagement, she remembers her time growing up in poverty and squalor with her siblings as her unorthodox and nomadic parents moved them all around the country.
PLOT:
It's 1989 and Jeannette Walls (BRIE LARSON) is a New York City based journalist and gossip columnist who's recently engaged to her financial analyst boyfriend, David (MAX GREENFIELD). But while her siblings -- Brian (JOSH CARAS), Lori (SARAH SNOOK) and Maureen (BRIGETTE LUNDY-PAINE) -- are aware of this news, she's yet to inform her parents, Rex (WOODY HARRELSON) and Rose Mary (NAOMI WATTS). And that's because they're currently homeless in the city, something that embarrasses Jeannette to the point that she lies about them to others.

All of which stems from growing up in a decidedly unorthodox and nomadic fashion with her parents during the 1960s and '70s. As seen in various flashbacks at various points during that period, young Jeannette (ELLA ANDERSON & CHANDLER HEAD), Brian (CHARLIE SHOTWELL & IAIN ARMITAGE), Lori (SADIE SINK & OLIVIA KATE RICE) and Maureen (SHREE CROOKS & EDEN GRACE REDFIELD) have to contend with constantly being on the move.

That's usually the result of something their father has done, some of which stemmed from his drinking and their overall lack of money, what with him usually being unemployed while their mom is a literal and figurative starving artist. Often living below the poverty line, sometimes in squalor, and occasionally without electricity or running water, the kids view their lives through various perspectives, sometimes enjoying the unexpectedness and adventure of it all, but at others wanting stability and even food to eat.

As the years pass and the kids start growing up, their reactions lean more toward the latter, all of which begins to put a strain on Jeannette and her father's unique relationship, something which was once strong. With those flashbacks exploring that and more, we see what lead to Jeannette becoming the woman she is in the present day and her mixed feelings toward her parents.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
My mom has long said -- and continues to say -- that she should write a book about her upbringing. After all, in today's world where most American kids have every creature comfort and tech item available, she was born and raised on the top of a West Virginia mountain with no electricity and no running water for years.

She had to sleep in one bed with her siblings just for warmth in the winter, attended a one-room school where kids of all ages were taught by just one teacher, and literally had to walk miles to get to the bus stop to attend that school. And your kids probably get upset if the wi-fi is down for one day.

Who knows if she'll ever get around to putting her childhood experiences down on paper, but many first-time authors before her have documented theirs. Sometimes that results in nothing more than the sound of crickets in terms of readers wanting to read such a memoir. But with others, lightning strikes and the work becomes a bestseller that ends up getting made into a movie.

Such is the case with Jeannette Walls, a now 57-year-old writer who went from being a reporter and gossip columnist to best-selling author with her 2005 autobiographical offering, "The Glass Castle." Detailing her life as one of four kids growing up in the 1960s and '70s to unconventional and nomadic parents who moved the family all across the country, eschewed traditional schooling and often lived in poverty while dealing with the dad's alcoholism, the book spent years on the New York Times bestseller list and sold millions of copies.

Considering the book's popularity and Walls' success despite and possibly also due to her upbringing, it's no surprise her tale has now been turned into a dramatic film bearing the same title. In it, Brie Larson plays Walls both in the present day setting of 1989, as well as an older teenager (with Ella Anderson and Chandler Head playing her at younger ages) having a love/hate relationship in both eras with her father (Woody Harrelson).

Working from a screenplay adaptation of Wall's literary work he co-penned with Andrew Lanham, director Destin Daniel Cretton has the film begin with Larson's character having a business dinner where her financial analyst boyfriend, David (Max Greenfield), is trying to land some clients and a lie is told about Jeannette's parents and their accomplishments. That's followed by a solo ride home in a cab where the accomplished young woman spots a homeless woman digging through the trash while a homeless man stands in the way of the cab's forward progress and even gives it a quick kick to the hood for good measure.

That amounts to a little bit of a narrative contrivance as we then learn those are her parents (Naomi Watts plays her mother) and the story then rewinds to a scary moment where young Jeannette accidentally sets her clothing ablaze at the gas stove, resulting in a trip to the hospital where the staff becomes concerned about her and her siblings' well-being. But Harrelson's father figure, Rex, has other plans and in a mischievous manner diverts attention via another of his kids to spring the girl from her room, race out to the waiting station wagon, and speed off for yet another unconventional bit of parenting (which include long in the development plans for one day building a house where the walls and roof will be made of glass -- hence the title).

The story then jumps back and forth from various times in the past to the present where Jeannette is concerned about telling the parental units -- and especially her father -- that she's engaged to David who Rex doesn't regard as good husband or general person material. We've seen these sorts of temporal jumping tales before where we witness how a character's upbringing shaped their life and how what seemed like a fun family experience in their early childhood eventually deteriorated into something more trying and less than desirable in later years.

It's all handled decently and I'm thankful all involved didn't go the full-out maudlin route in hopes of getting susceptible viewers' waterworks flowing. Yet, and perhaps somewhat because of that, I never felt emotionally vested or connected to the characters or the events as portrayed.

And I can't really pinpoint the reason as the story is certainly interesting enough and the performances are all good. Something just felt slightly off for me and thus while I was never bored, I was never as fully engaged as I likely should and could have been. Of course, your response could wildly vary from mine, and I might have a different reaction upon seeing the offering a second time.

As it stands, "The Glass Castle" is a decent offering about a decidedly offbeat and often trying childhood. Now if I can just get my mom to write about hers. The film rates as a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed August 8, 2017 / Posted August 11, 2017


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