The Glass Castle reunites director Destin Daniel Cretton with Brie Larson, four years after the latter’s second feature, Short Term 12, won widespread critical acclaim and announced Brie Larson as one of this generation’s most promising actresses.
Here, Larson plays journalist Jeanette Walls in an adaptation of her bestselling memoir, which charts Wallis’ unconventional, nomadic upbringing and the financial luxury of her young adult life.
Larson is well cast and on top form, but is hampered by the flashback structure which does not allow her the time to make a significant impact upon proceedings. Somewhat fortunately, this enables newcomer Ella Anderson to shine as the young Jeanette. Anderson’s performance has all the nuance and confidence expected from an actress well beyond her years, while her scenes with her alcoholic father (Woody Harrelson) are the film’s highlights. Harrelson is magnetic in the role, which brings much humanity to a deeply flawed and frequently unlikeable character.
The destructive nature of alcoholism is illustrated superbly by Harrelson’s performance, which is not tainted by the film’s lazy belief that merely swapping his wigs is sufficient to display over twenty years of ageing.
In spite of the excellent performances, Cretton’s direction is disappointingly nondescript. Displaying none of the flair seen in his previous work, he takes a plodding approach to the story and the split narratives mean that there is little opportunity for the drama to gather momentum or maintain a focus. The constant switches between decades become a distraction and do not allow either strand of the story the screen time that they deserve.
A solid, well-acted family drama that is tainted by its attempt to pack as much story as possible into the runtime and its overly sentimental, saccharine ending. Simply, Larson, Anderson and Harrelson’s performances deserve to be in a much better film.