Right off of the bat, it's easy to see that Brie Larson (reuniting with Cretton after her star-making performance in Short Term 12) and Woody Harrelson fire on all cylinders in this movie. Though Max Greenfield and Naomi Watts often find themselves shortchanged by the material given to them, Larson and Harrelson are absolutely magnetic as an estranged father-daughter duo. Harrelson, in particular, delivers a career-best performance as the hard-drinking Rex Walls, and the actor conveys a notable sadness and empathetic sensibility -- even when Rex does things that are objectively abhorrent. Harrelson has two Oscar nominations to his name for The Messenger and The People vs. Larry Flynt, but The Glass Castle could potentially be the one that turns him from Academy Award Nominee Woody Harrelson into Academy Award Winner Woody Harrelson.
This topsy-turvy biopic of writer Jeannette Walls chronicles the highly unstable living conditions of Walls’ childhood, beginning with her lighting herself on fire while cooking herself hot dogs on the stove as a toddler.
Things don’t get much better from there, as her alcoholic and abusive father Rex (Woody Harrelson) puts her and her three siblings through a gamut of emotional and physical turmoil, living some nightmare version of what he thinks is a hippie fantasy. Mom (Naomi Watts), who swoons when Rex throws her out of a second story window, isn’t much better. Most people would crumble under such weight. Walls was able to pull herself together and thrive as a writer in New York City.
Academy Award winner Brie Larson stars as the adult Walls, who as the story picks up in 1989, is getting ready to marry her straight-laced boyfriend (Max Greenfield). But the majority of the story takes place in flashback during Walls’ childhood, and scene after scene details Rex’s relentlessly abusive behavior toward his family. It’s not so much harrowing as it is repetitive, and the film gets stuck in a single gear it can’t get itself out of.
Director Destin Daniel Cretton, who also made (the much better) “Short Term 12” with Larson, wants you to feel warm and fuzzy toward Rex at the end of the film, an emotion he at no point earns during the course of the movie. Mostly you’re just happy that the neglect is finally over.