TV & Movies

The Glass Castle Was Amazing, But Does the Film Do the Book Justice?

For the most part, it does

Glass Castle Book vs Movie: The Walls family in Welch

(PHOTO: JAKE GILES NETTER)

My roommate/best friend has been telling me to read The Glass Castle for years, and while I trust her taste and knew it would probs be a great read, for some reason I just never got around to it. But when I found out it was being made into a movie this summer, starring Brie Larson (love her), I picked up the book immediately.

Turns out, my roommate was right, the book was amazing.

The gripping memoir, written by Jeannette Walls, follows her dysfunctional but equally loyal family and the unimaginable struggles they faced with nonconformist nomads for parents. (For a more in-depth synopsis, check out our review of the film, which BTW, we gave 4.5 stars out of 5).

Ever since the film was announced we’ve been nervously waiting and wondering if it would do justice to Walls’s eye-opening story; and for the most part, it does. Here, a breakdown of details from book we thought the movie totally nailed, and a few things we felt a tiny bit robbed of that the flick left out, because—let’s be honest—we can’t love everything.

What we loved:

The A+ cast

Let’s start with the obvious, shall we? The casting for this movie was so. on. point. Considering Larson’s pristine acting resumé, it’s no surprise that she absolutely killed it as a teenage/adult Jeannette Walls. Naomi Watts, who plays Jeannette’s mother, Rose Mary, perfected the carefree spirit of the character from the book like it was her own. But it was Woody Harrelson as Rex, the Walls family patriarch, who shined the brightest, IMO. This isn’t technically a role that we’re used to seeing Harrelson in, and it gave him a chance to show off his serious acting skills, which apparently, are Grade A level. He made us love him and hate him at the same time (how is that even possible?)—and even through all the srsly messed-up shit he did, we still found ourselves rooting for him. So thanks, Woody Harrelson, for giving us more than we ever even expected.

The flashback format

In the book, we first meet Jeannette as an adult living in a swanky Park Avenue apartment with her husband (in the film it was only her fiancé), and then we’re quickly taken back in time to Jeanette as a three-year-old living in a trailer park in southern Arizona. We don’t NYC Jeannette again until the end of the book. But the movie took on a slightly different format—jumping back and forth from present- and past-day Jeanette—and it totally worked that way. It made us feel like we were actually a part of her story and not like she was just narrating her life events to us. And even though the movie had a lot of years to cover, it never once felt too jumpy or hard to follow.

The perfect ending

As serious lovers of the book, we were really hoping the film would somehow find a way to tie in all those little tidbits and memories that, while not overly important to the central thesis of the book, give the story colour. And that’s why the film’s ending was *so* perfect, because it touched on some of those little memories from the book that, for the sake of time, were skipped over in the film; like Jeannette making her own braces, Rex casually petting a tiger at the zoo and my personal fave, time they filled the car with hundreds of grapes they picked from a field.

Glass Castle Book vs Movie

(PHOTO: JAKE GILES NETTER)

What we *didn’t* love:

We totally get that it’s absolutely impossible to turn a 300-page book into a 90-minute movie without leaving a few minor details behind, and of course we weren’t expecting to see every single scene from the book play out on screen (that would just be unreasonable). That said, there were a few key factors that the film skimmed over (or just completely left out) that kind of felt like missing pieces to a puzzle.

Not seeing enough of Grandma Smith and the house in Phoenix   

Unlike Grandma Walls—Rex’s mother, who the kids referred to as a “witch” and a “pervert”—Walls loved Rose Mary’s mother, a.k.a Grandma Smith. Walls spoke fondly of her white house with green shutters in Phoenix and how much she loved staying there when they had nowhere else to go. In the movie, Grandma Smith’s name isn’t even mentioned until they find out she’d passed away and left them some land. But the book introduced her pretty early on and when she passed away she didn’t just leave them a piece of land, she also left them a house in Phoenix to live in.

“When we pulled up in front of the house on North Third Street, I could not believe we were actually going to be living there… The front yard had a palm tree, and the backyard had orange trees that grew real oranges. We’d never lived in a house with trees. I particularly liked the palm tree, which made me think I had arrived and some kind of oasis,” writes Walls in her memoir.

In the above quote, Walls explains one of the only places from her childhood that actually felt somewhat like a home—the house in Phoenix. And considering the fact that she calls it her “oasis,” it feels like something they should have at least mentioned in the film.

Glossing over how bad life in Welch really was 

While the film did spend a lot of time on the Walls’s downright shitty life in Welch, West Virginia—from the kids resorting to eating butter and sugar when there was no other food in the house, to their bunkbeds made of rope and cardboard—it almost felt as if it was just scratching the surface of how bad things really were. For example, their house—which TBH was a glorified shack—had no plumbing or electricity, so they had to go to the washroom in a plastic bucket that sat in the kitchen (this was briefly mentioned in the movie, but was never shown). In the winter there was no heat, so if they didn’t sleep with tons of blankets they would literally freeze to death. And Walls’s brother Brian had to sleep under a tarp every night because the roof was falling down and leaking. In the book, Walls also describes picking through the garbage at school and eating other kids lunch scraps, and how, without running water, she hardly bathed. The film didn’t really show that.

Missing the childhood bonds the siblings forged

Because the film spent a little more time on their adult lives than the book did, it painted a really great picture of how close the Walls siblings had remained since leaving their life in Welch behind. That was really great to see, but it felt like their close-knit sibling bond was a little glossed over in their childhood years—especially between Walls and her brother Brian. It would’ve been nice to see more of their relationship play out in the film.

The overall consensus:

The movie was fantastic and is definitely a must-see. BUT if you want the full story of the Walls family, we highly highly recommend reading the book.

Related links:
The Glass Castle Review: A Gritty Family Drama That Does the Book Proud
Why The Glass Castle Is More Than a Book and a Movie, It’s a Wakeup Call
We Asked a Book Club Guru for her Ultimate Summer Reading List