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Film review: The Glass Castle – Brie Larson in dysfunctional family drama, based on Jeannette Walls’ memoir

After being raised off the grid by her out-there parents, budding journalist Larson craves normality. But she can’t escape her past in this uneven tale, where only Woody Harrelson as her father makes a lasting impression

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2017, 7:02am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 November, 2017, 3:07pm

3/5 stars

A family living off the grid – if that pitch sounds familiar, then you’re probably thinking of director Matt Ross’ Captain Fantastic from last year, with Viggo Mortensen playing the unconventional flower-power father. Based on real-life gossip columnist Jeannette Walls’ memoir, The Glass Castle covers the same terrain, albeit with less success.

The big draw here is the reunion between Brie Larson, the Oscar-winning actress from Room , and director Destin Daniel Cretton, who previously worked on Larson’s breakthrough Short Term 12. In this late-1980s tale, Larson plays Jeannette, who craves normality after being raised by her out-there folks (Naomi Watts, Woody Harrelson). When we first see them, they’re raiding rubbish bins and squatting in an apartment on New York’s Lower East Side.

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Engaged to financial adviser David (Max Greenfield), rising journalist Jeannette has the world at her feet. But her past relationship with her parents still troubles her, not least as her tyrannical, hard-drinking father takes an instant dislike to her fiancé.

Frequently, we cut back to her difficult childhood – particularly a kitchen accident when she was left unsupervised at the stove and suffered a mishap that left her permanently scarred.

Unfortunately, this yo-yo structure disrupts the rhythm of the film, and Cretton never finds a satisfactory solution. Too often, you’re watching one section wishing you were back in the other.

It doesn’t help that Larson, styled with bouffant hair and shoulder pads, feels like a Dynasty caricature. Only Harrelson really cuts deep into his character, leaving a deep, dark impression. The rest needs work.

The Glass Castle opens on November 16

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