"The Glass Castle" is a unique film about a real family, focusing on a love-hate father-daughter relationship. The film is based on a book written by the daughter, the daughter who was closest to her Dad and believed in him the most. He kept promising to build the family a fantastical house made of glass (and never stopped tweaking the floor plans) that never materialized.
A nonconformist, fiercely independent, contrarian alcoholic father and his free-spirited artist-wife drag their 5 children across the USA in the 1960's, moving every few months--on the lam from the law. Dad picks fights, breaks laws and squats in what looks like condemned housing. HIs saving grace is that he's a charmer, a raconteur, quite brilliant when it comes to engineering, and in a strange way loves his kids--even though he doesn't do right by them. His daughter says of him later that he could also be "cruel," a fact we certainly witness--mostly in his drunken stupors, but also in his wanting to keep his grown children at home and not let them break out on their own.
The dad, Rex, is played by Woody Harrelson in what I'm calling the best role of his career. If you don't think Woody is much of an actor, you will change your mind. The adult daughter role is played by the wonderful Brie Larson who, amazingly, dials in the performance. She is a stoic mannequin for the most part. Why oh why? Maybe there's a directorial reason? Maybe this is the real daughter's personality? Maybe she's portraying a tough, shut-down personality? But just keep your eyes on Woody, he'll steal every scene. Naomi Watts--looking preternaturally youthful--plays hippie Mom with a frustrating irresponsibility that makes us want to slap her.
For most of the film, we get to watch brilliant child actors. Jeannette, the daughter through whose eyes we live the story has a gift for writing. This gift will eventually catapult her to fame and fortune in New York City, covering fashion for New York Magazine, a Cinderella rags to riches story. But as she tries to escape her embarrassing past, her aging parents pull at her heartstrings. She is also bound to her father by their similarities: a dogged persistence and ability to survive.
For anyone who has struggled in this way with a parental relationship--eternally grateful to them, but finding it hard to forgive past and present hurts and inconsistencies that never seem to resolve themselves; parents who may even promise to change but never do--you will find much to bawl about in this well-crafted film full of symbolism and passion and unfairness and grit and the joy of living. HOWEVER: THIS IS NOT A HALLMARK STORY. I REPEAT, NOT A HALLMARK STORY. IT'S A FILM FILM.
The first people in life we have to forgive (and thank) are our imperfect parents who, like us, never stop wrestling with their demons.
--Watch the credits. You'll get to see the real family. Rex reminded me somehow of Woody Guthrie. And a Woody plays him.