The Glass Castle (3 stars)

The Glass Castle

Jeannette Walls's memoir becomes a schmaltzy but well-acted drama, starring Brie Larson

'I'm an excitement addict!' exclaims Rose Mary Walls (Naomi Watts) as she whisks her kids off on another adventure across America. The mother of New York gossip columnist and author Jeannette Walls (played by Brie Larson as an adult and Ella Anderson and Chandler Head as a child) ran away from home, married Rex (Woody Harrelson) and rarely looked back, as she embarked on rearing a family of her own in a nonconformist fashion.

It's a shame this vibrant, eccentric artist doesn't get more screen-time in Destin Daniel Cretton's adaptation of Jeannette's memoir, The Glass Castle. The film plays out more as a tribute to Rex, exploring the complexity of a father-daughter dynamic when the father is an alcoholic who raises his kids on hope as they live in squalor.

Jeannette looks back on her nomadic upbringing from a posh restaurant in Manhattan, with the risks, romanticism and boundless possibilities of haphazard guardians guiding their children along the open road all wonderfully captured. There's a fiery energy between the red-headed gang of siblings that's made up of Jeannette, her two sisters and brother, who explore their surroundings with wonder. Humour, excitement and danger fuel the family scenes in the early stages of the film, where Jeannette is in awe of her father who promises to build her the titular structure.

Harrelson shifts ably between charming and broken in his embodiment of a tragic figure, whose toxic behaviour turns menacing as the years go by and his addiction worsens. Though his irresponsible actions are hurtful, the film attempts to explore how he arrived at this point rather than to judge. However, the screenplay – co-written by Cretton and Andrew Lanham – veers too close to schmaltz in its depiction of Jeannette's relationship with her father. Though it's difficult not to get caught up in this tearjerker, thanks to fine performances from all involved, cheesy dialogue and platitudes hamper the final throes.

General release from Fri 6 Oct.

The Glass Castle

  • 3 stars
  • 2017
  • US
  • 2h 7min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Destin Daniel Cretton
  • Cast: Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, Ella Anderson, Chandler Head
  • UK release: 6 October 2017

The story of New York author Jeannette Walls (Larson as an adult, Anderson and Head as a child) and her upbringing in her eccentric family with mother Rose Mary (Watts) and alcoholic father Rex (Harrelson). Watts is underused as the vibrant Rose Mary and the cheesy dialogue and platitudes impair what’s otherwise a decent…