The Glass Castle Review: A Gritty Family Drama That Does the Book Proud

We legit struggled to find a reason for someone not to see this film

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A family of red-heads with four children and mother, Naomi Watts and father Woody Harrelson stand in front of a rusty green car looking up at something together in The Glass Castle movie

(Photo: Jake Giles Netter)

Ever since writer Jeannette Walls invited readers to explore the secret rooms and dark hallways of her unconventional childhood with her 2005 memoir The Glass Castle, we have been waiting for the inevitable movie. The Glass Castle, which hits theatres on August 11, is easily one of the most highly anticipated debuts of the year and has been getting some serious buzz from fans wondering if a blockbuster can live up to the nuanced, at and times hard to stomach, best-seller. (*Spoiler alert* yes, it definitely can, and it does.)

The big-screen adaption stars Brie Larson as an adult Jeannette Walls, Naomi Watts as Walls’s mother Rose Mary and Woody Harrelson as the Walls patriarch Rex. Audiences may also recognize TV’s Max Greenfield (a.k.a. Schmidt from New Girl) as Walls’s husband David, and Iain Armitage (a.k.a. Ziggy from Big Little Lies) as the young version of Walls’s only brother, Brian. But, to be clear, the film’s all-star cast is definitely not the only reason to see this film. 

The Coles Notes catch-up:

Since this film is based on a best-selling book, there are actually multiple chances to get a chapter-by-chapter summary—but trust, no synopsis will compare to the real thing. The film sticks pretty closely to the book, opening with Walls (Larson), clad in a 1980s power suit, heading home in a New York City cab after a swanky dinner out with her clean-cut fiancé. She looks out the window and sees her mother (Watts), digging through a pile of trash on the sidewalk and realizes that the man currently yelling at the cab is her father (Harrelson). And so begins a movie of how Walls went from a living in rundown shacks as a child to a seemingly normal upper-middle class life in New York City. The film jumps back and forth between Walls’s life as a successful journalist in the 1980s and her challenging childhood, battling extreme poverty, her father’s alcoholism and her desire to create a better life for herself and her three siblings. The film shows how the Walls changed towns and living situations, but no matter where they went, or how bad things got, they remained a family.

TBH, this is what we thought:

With the incredible love, pain and passion poured into the memoir, it seemed like there was no effing way that a film could portray such a complex story, and its characters, adequately. And yet, the movie not only stays true to the book, it adds layers that enhance this already incredible story. Larson and Harrelson are gut-wrenchingly great as the complicated father-daughter duo at the heart of this film—and we’d be shocked if they don’t get nominated for their roles. Even though the film jumps around in time, it does so seamlessly and every frame of the film—from the 1980s apartment decor to the derelict houses that the Walls family made into their homes—has something new to take in.

The Glass Castle is the type of film that feels like it was carefully put together. It is a nuanced story that doesn’t depict what is right or wrong, but simply shows a family fighting to survive from one day to the next despite insurmountable circumstances and complicated personalities. There are moments where you’ll want to throw your popcorn at the screen out of frustration, times when you’ll laugh at Greenfield’s classically quirky yet surprisingly heartwarming performance and more than a few instances of profound quotes worthy of Instagram.

For instance, there’s the moment when Harrelson, as Walls’s father, says, “You learn from living, everything else is a damn lie.” Outside of the outstanding performances and big-league production of this film, that’s what makes it a must-see: the fact that this story about life, and living, is true.

The Glass Castle review: a still from the movie of Brie Larson, who plays Jeannette Walls, sitting with her mother, played by Naomi Watts, at a chinese restaurant in New York City with a gold table cloth and red walls

(Photo: Jake Giles Netter)

You’ll love it if:

You were a fan of the book, or if you haven’t yet read the book but are looking to get an early start on your list of Oscar contenders.

Skip it if:

You’re looking for an easy-breezy movie.

Pair it with:

A plan to get involved with your local shelter or food bank.

See it with:

Your book club.

Don’t see it with:

Your young siblings. This film (rated 14A) digs into some serious issues, including alcoholism, sexual abuse and serious poverty, so anyone who may be triggered or disturbed by that content shouldn’t tag along.

How you’ll feel walking out of the theatre:

(Credit: Giphy)

(Credit: Giphy)

Final rating:

Four-and-a-half probable awards out of five.

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