The Glass Castle

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Glass Castle Movie Poster Image
Strong acting, intense themes in emotional book-based drama.
  • PG-13
  • 2017
  • 127 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 3 reviews

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The kind of upbringing portrayed in the movie is troubling; while the children develop a love of reading and exceptional intelligence and creativity, they also endure pain, hunger, and other hardships. The movie doesn't necessarily condone or celebrate these things.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Walls is portrayed as a survivor and a person with a positive outlook, despite going through hard times -- and harder emotions -- in order to arrive in that place.


A child is burned with boiling water and goes to the hospital. Children are shown being hungry, thrown in the deep end of a pool, etc., as part of their impoverished and very unconventional upbringing. Parents argue and throw things. A man is punched. Mild, general sense of fear/threat.


A man tries to coax a woman into sex. Couples are comfortable/intimate with one another.


Somewhat infrequent uses of foul language, including one use of "f--k," "s--t," "son of a bitch," "ass," "hell," "crap," "goddamn," etc.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A supporting character has a drinking problem; he appears staggering drunk and violent. He tries to quit and goes through painful detox. Supporting characters smoke cigarettes.

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 LarsonWoody Harrelson, and Naomi Watts co-star.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 12-year-old Written byaubrey c. January 3, 2018

A few touchy scenes not mentioned in review

Not mentioned in the description of the film is a scene where the boy was in the beginning stages of being molested by his grandmother and an ensuing fight (I f... Continue reading
Parent Written byB P September 4, 2017

People not impacted by alcoholism or addiction may not understand the brilliance.

This movie was perfection. I see it isn't completely well received. I also see that perhaps it's inappropriate for children. Here's the thing, if... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byMangoJuice100 March 21, 2018


This movie is good, but there are some adult content. A man throws the woman out the window, but she is unharmed, and the man drinks and is crazy. Great actors... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byBambi007 August 22, 2017

The saddest movie i have ever seen

I just went to see this movie a couple days ago in theaters and i can tell you i cried about 4 times throughout the movie. Its about how irresponsible adults t... Continue reading

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?

  • How does the movie portray drinking and smoking? Are they glamorized? Are there realistic consequences? Why does that matter?

  • 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?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate