A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Glass Castle is an intense drama based on Jeannette Walls' best-selling memoir. It tells the story of a very dysfunctional family. There's a frequent underlying threat of violence, and children are portrayed as seriously hungry and occasionally in peril: a young girl burns herself with boiling water, children are thrown into the deep end of a pool, and so on. Their parents also shout, argue, and throw things. Language isn't frequent but includes words like "s--t," "ass," and "damn." There are sexual situations (a man tries and fails to seduce a woman) and couples being intimately comfortable with one another. A key character has a drinking problem. He's shown staggering drunk and abusive and goes through painful detox while quitting. Another character smokes. Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, and Naomi Watts co-star.
What's the story?
In THE GLASS CASTLE, Jeanette (Brie Larson) has an uncomfortable dinner out with her fiancé, David (Max Greenfield). On the way home, she spots her parents, Rex (Woody Harrelson) and Rose Mary (Naomi Watts), digging through the trash. She then remembers her childhood, when she, her parents, and her siblings (two sisters and a brother) would go on the run every time her father lost a job. Jeanette remembers the wondrous times, such as planning the "glass castle" that they hoped to build someday, or Rex letting the children choose their very own star as a Christmas present. But she also remembers the difficult times, including their lack of food, Rex's drinking, and the time Jeanette burned herself as a child while boiling hot dogs. Back in the present, Jeanette's troubles start again when she finds that her parents have followed her and her siblings to New York.
Is it any good?
Based on Walls' best-selling memoir, this drama could have been edgier, but it follows a certain genre type, comfortably presenting itself as a four-hankie weepie graced with fine performances. You might think that writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton -- whose previous film was the excellent, emotionally complex and nuanced Short Term 12 -- would give the same treatment to The Glass Castle. But, like any classic tearjerker melodrama, it's painted with broader, more basic strokes.
Each scene is designed more to coax a response from the audience than to find a deeper, more vivid truth about the characters. Nevertheless, the great cast is treated well, and the actors get many big moments to shine. Harrelson treads a fine line between Rex's extremes of abuse and wonder, and Watts' Rose Mary emerges with her own personality and desires; she's far more than just a "wife." Larson (who also starred in Short Term 12) ties it all together, shuffling through stages of betrayal, rage, hope, and love. The exceptional Sarah Snook has less to do here, but she manages a few small, powerful moments. These performances are the reason to watch.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about The Glass Castle's violence. How much is shown? How much more feels like it's simmering under the surface, threatening? How does the movie achieve this? What's the impact of media violence on kids?
If you've read Walls' memoir, how does the movie compare to the book? What changed from page to screen? Why do you think those changes were made?
What positive things did Rex and Rose Mary teach their children? What not-so-positive things happened in their family? Were the good things worth the bad things?
Teens: Have you ever felt frustrated by or angry at your parents? Why? How did you deal with it?
- In theaters: August 11, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: November 7, 2017
- Cast: Brie Larson, Naomi Watts, Woody Harrelson
- Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, Brothers and Sisters
- Run time: 127 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: mature thematic content involving family dysfunction, and for some language and smoking
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