Review – The Glass Castle

By Daniel Hart
Published: October 25, 2017 (Last updated: January 18, 2024)

The Glass Castle is based on a memoir of the same name. In fact, the entire notion of a glass castle is pretty central to the movie. As I watched this I felt like I was watching the modern day Cinderella.


Okay, it is not a fairytale but the movie does bare the story of misfortunes and dealing with the bittersweet triumphs. The premise is a rollercoaster; it follows four siblings who learn to take care of themselves due to an imbalanced father and a mother afraid of domestication. Their parents believed in being free-spirited, living off the grid, with their ways of life sometimes having a positive or negative effect on the children.

Many of my friends will disagree, but I have always found it admirable hearing stories of people living off the grid by choice due to disagreeing with the structures of our society. It takes a noble person to do it. In the case of The Glass Castle, the story portrays fewer sweet moments and plenty of nightmares, in such a way that at times I am not sure what story it wanted to tell. That said, the father Rex (Woody Harrelson) and the daughter Jeannette Walls (Brie Larson), who also happened to write the memoir, are central to the entire plot.

What drives the story?

Much of the first two acts show the family desperately moving repeatedly to find new places to squat or make a brand new home for themselves. The father is obviously proud of his belief but there is an underlying darkness ready to be exposed. It is almost like this memoir is trying to showcase to you that living off the grid is not as plain sailing as some will make you believe. With the many trips, new ideas and unnerving moments amongst the family, you come to realise that this movie is not about unshackling yourself back into modern society. It is about an incredibly formed dysfunctional family, that earnestly love each other but are in an undesirable situation. The movie portrays pure selfishness from the parents, with the siblings having to fend for themselves and deal with the father’s two spectrums.

Which two spectrums?

Rex and his relationship with Jeannette are the strongest moments in the film. The father-daughter bond appears to elevate above all other relationships in the family. The Glass Castle presents two sides of Rex’s personality. A sober and a drunk version of himself. Sober Rex inspires his children, educates them to a way of life and drives their true character, however drunk Rex is aggressive, uncaring and lacks the ability to sympathise with his own. He is an alcoholic. This storyline is only effective because of the young Jeannette played by Ella Anderson. She carries a character living in fear and love, with the realisation that her father needs saving but also the vision to understand she needs to save herself and her siblings. It is their confusing relationship that is core, and not the living situation.

What do you mean when you said you are not sure what story it wanted to tell?

The Glass Castle does not know what memoir it wants to portray. It fixates on one story for long moments to then move to another. It recognises in the end that Rex and Jeannette are core, however, it takes a long time to reach a definite story arc. The old version of Jeannette lives in New York. The movie does not intricately link the younger siblings and the older in a way that flows. It is not confusing, but due to that imbalance, there is a lack of emotional connection. I sense that The Glass Castle really drives itself as if it were the memoir, but unfortunately, that makes it become a muddled movie with certain strong plot points to hold onto.

Fortunately, without question, the performances are good, but you would expect that with the cast thrown at the story.

Did you like it?

I did. Despite my annoyances and the lack of direction, I did find myself clinching on to what works. I had my entire concentration on Jeannette and her father. This is a movie that as a whole wants to reflect a dysfunctional and broken family that has stern beliefs of the world and siblings that learn the reality of their situation.


Despite the fact I enjoyed certain aspects of the story, I would wait until you come across The Glass Castle rather than look for it yourself.

Movie Reviews, Movies