Love some­how shines through 'The Glass Cas­tle'

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Any par­ents of young chil­dren - or any­one think­ing of hear­ing the pit­ter-pat­ter of lit­tle feet - are urged to go to their lo­cal movie the­ater and see "The Glass Cas­tle." Not as a how-to guide, mind you. No, that might ac­tu­ally get you thrown in jail. They should go see it in­stead as a much-needed re­minder that you can mess up spec­tac­u­larly with your kids and still man­age to have them adore you. "The Glass Cas­tle " is steeped in crazy love, but love nonethe­less.

Based on Jean­nette Walls' 2005 best-sell­ing mem­oir, the film is both a trib­ute to par­ent­ing and a con­fes­sional of its ab­sence. Like the book, it looks back with­out pity or sen­ti­ment. Un­like the book, it's got Woody Har­rel­son and Brie Lar­son, act­ing spec­tac­u­larly. Walls cre­ated a sen­sa­tion when she wrote about her des­ti­tute and no­madic youth, a child­hood of hunger and pri­va­tion at the hands of a pair of idio­syn­cratic par­ents who shunned schools, author­ity, cap­i­tal­ism and reg­u­lar bill pay­ments.

Hers was a child­hood where she sud­denly moved in the mid­dle of the night, badly burned her­self while un­su­per­vised at the stove, had to eat but­ter and sugar as a meal, en­dured rages from her al­co­holic dad and lived in homes with­out plumb­ing or elec­tric­ity. She was left in the house of an abuser to fend for her­self and "learned" to swim when her fa­ther re­peat­edly tossed her un­der­wa­ter so she'd no longer cling to the side of the pool. Strug­gle, she was taught, gives life beauty. Ad­ven­ture was more im­por­tant than com­fort.

"You learn from liv­ing," her fa­ther says af­ter steer­ing the fam­ily's bro­ken-down sta­tion wagon into the un­for­giv­ing desert for a night un­der the stars. "Ev­ery­thing else is a damn lie." The film is di­rected by Destin Daniel Cret­ton, who cowrote the screen­play with An­drew Lan­ham and re­unites with Lar­son, who starred in his in­die "Short Term 12." It's a ma­ture, em­pa­thetic work of film­mak­ing from a young artist even if such a quirky story has a few too many grand Hol­ly­wood flour­ishes, as when our hero­ine high heels in hand - abruptly leaves a fancy din­ner to sprint to her fa­ther's bed­side amid a soar­ing sound­track.

Artis­tic, bo­hemian mother

Lar­son plays the adult Jeanette Walls who seems to have blocked out much of her hard­scrab­ble youth as a ris­ing mag­a­zine writer in New York City. The movie opens like the book, with the au­thor in a taxi in 1989 hap­pen­ing to spy her par­ents Dump­ster-div­ing on a street in the East Vil­lage. A se­ries of flash­backs re­veal the unique way the Walls' four chil­dren were raised. They have an artis­tic, bo­hemian mother (an un­der­stated Naomi Watts as Rose Mary Walls) and a fiery, charis­matic dad (Har­rel­son as Rex Walls) who prom­ises to build a fantastic glass cas­tle for the fam­ily to live in one day. Their fa­ther is bril­liant and dash­ing but un­de­pend­able. He of­fers them their own stars in the heav­ens for Christ­mas, but takes their last few dol­lars to get drunk. Warts and all are shown - yet very lit­tle blame.

The exact mo­ment when dad goes from off­beat quirky to dan­ger­ous is never clear but Har­rel­son's de­scent into a moody, an­gry, ly­ing Walls - but one al­ways lov­ing - is riv­et­ing. A man who once promised thrilling free­dom for his kids be­comes their war­den, re­fus­ing to let them leave for bet­ter lives. (The younger Jean­nettes are played with real skill by Ella An­der­son and Chan­dler Head). Jean­nette Walls' story is clearly lov­ingly pro­tected by the film­mak­ers, from the stiff shoul­der pads of the 1980s to the de­vel­op­ing dark­ness of the film. There's as­ton­ish­ing de­tail ren­dered, down to the use of real Rose Mary Walls' paint­ings on the walls and the long­gone "Please Do Not Slam the Door" stick­ers on yel­low cab win­dows.

In the face of a hor­rific child­hood, the Walls kids are fiercely pro­tec­tive of each other, as ex­pected. What's not as ex­pected is that they still love their par­ents, too. Frus­trat­ingly, it's not clear if they be­came happy adults be­cause of their up­bring­ing or de­spite of it, but that al­most seems be­side the point. The mes­sages here are that kids are more re­silient than we think, that your par­ents aren't as crazy as you think, and that love al­ways, al­ways, wins. "The Glass Cas­tle," a Lion­s­gate re­lease, is rated PG-13 by the Mo­tion Pic­ture As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica for "ma­ture the­matic con­tent in­volv­ing fam­ily dys­func­tion, and for some lan­guage and smok­ing." Run­ning time: 127 min­utes. Three stars out of four.

MPAA Def­i­ni­tion of PG-13: Par­ents strongly cau­tioned. Some ma­te­rial may be in­ap­pro­pri­ate for chil­dren un­der 13. — AP

This im­age re­leased by Lion­s­gate shows, from left, Sadie Sink, Char­lie Shotwell, Ella An­der­son, fore­ground cen­ter, Woody Har­rel­son, Naomi Watts and Eden Grace Red­field in "The Glass Cas­tle." — AP

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