The problem with adapting memoirs into movies is that it’s extremely difficult to adapt a person’s life experiences into screenplay narrative format and maintain the emotional integrity of the original work. I think the impact of Jeannette Walls’ 2005 memoir, The Glass Castle, which I imagine is a deeply moving account of the author’s experience growing up with two highly dysfunctional parents, got diluted somewhere between the page and the screen.
The film version does a reasonably good job of covering both the exhilarating and the devastating moments of Walls’ childhood. Woody Harrelson delivers a powerful performance as Rex, the family patriarch whose alcoholism contributes to the chaos Walls and her three siblings endure throughout their upbringing and into adulthood.
Both the script and Harrelson bring an endearing humanity to Rex, which allows the audience to understand the complex emotions at play, especially once the children are grown and must learn to be responsible adults in spite of their lack of role models.
Naomi Watts portrays Rose Mary, the children’s mother, as a dreamer and a free spirit whose loyalty to Rex is often baffling – it is a credit to her performance Rose Mary doesn’t melt into a stereotypical caricature of an abused wife.
The problem is that this is a two-hour movie, and Walls’ life is so much more than that. The script works its way through one heartbreaking scenario after another, but the events feel like snippets of a larger story . . . which, of course, they are. Ultimately, the film fails to build sufficiently to the climax and resolution – expectations that it is all heading for a shattering emotional payoff are left hanging.
The Glass Castle tugs at heartstrings that aren’t invested enough for a truly satisfying experience.
I think The Glass Castle will probably be nominated for an adapted screenplay Oscar, although I don’t believe that it deserves it. Woody Harrelson will probably earn a supporting actor nomination, and Naomi Watts may be recognized as well. Now that there are 10 best picture slots, there’s a chance the film could even land in that category – the Academy likes movies that make the audience cry, even if the two hours that came before the crying weren’t that good (I’m looking at you, Forrest Gump).