Tuesday, 12 September 2017

RELATIVE VALUES: ‘Glass Castle’ transforms Walls’ memoir into an Oscar-worthy look at forgiveness, freedom and family

TRAVELLING LIGHT: The homeless Walls family makes a stop on their eventful journey criss-crossing America.

SOME true stories are so priceless they deserve to be shared with the whole world. Next to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Jeannette Walls’ bestselling memoir The Glass Castle sits at the top of the list. This month, her story gets the big-screen treatment, with assured direction from Destin Daniel Cretton. But the source material aside, the most appealing thing about the movie is its pair of Oscar-calibre performances from Brie Larson (as Jeannette) and Woody Harrelson (as her eccentric father Rex Walls).

By the end of this two-hour adventure of a movie, there are so many conclusions to draw. Above all, Jeanette Walls is the very definition of survivor. Hers is a deeply affecting tale of homelessness, identity and belonging juxtaposed with a rampant exploration of family, forgiveness and freedom. 

You see, for most of her young life, Jeannette Walls, her three siblings (Bryan, Marcelle and Marina), her mother Rosemary, a painter (Naomi Watts playing against type) and her dad Rex, a temperamental drinker, smoker and dreamer extraordinaire, were homeless, criss-crossing the American mainland to flee bill collectors and the police, living in abandoned houses they’d often transform into fixer-uppers and taking showers at the public pool. As Jamaicans would say, they have no abiding city.

The kids didn’t go to school. “You learn from living. Everything else is a lie,” Rex tells them with frightening authority. What we witness is a traumatic childhood and adolescence that leaves Jeannette and her siblings badly scarred, physically and otherwise. In one scene, young Jeanette gets second degree burns while boiling hot dogs. In another, her father’s idea of teaching her to swim is to toss her into the deepest end of the pool and have her fight her way back to the surface. Strangers look on in horror.

His finest hour comes when he sits down to blueprint the glass castle he’s going to build for the family. All they have to do is find the perfect place to lay the foundation.

But Rex, who passed away in 1994, also taught his children survival skills, how to nurture an unbridled spirit of adventure and how to stand up for themselves. The best thing he did for Jeannette, however, was give her a journal one Christmas, which soon sparked a passion for writing and led to a job at New York magazine, years after she saved up enough money in her piggybank and fled the nest to attend college.
Years later in New York, when Jeannette is settled in her magazine job and is engaged to a handsome financial analyst named David, her parents are squatting with kinfolk in an abandoned building on the Lower East Side. They still don’t see eye to eye, and Jeannette doesn’t approve of their chosen lifestyle, but she tries to maintain a relationship regardless. 

To have come through such an ordeal and morph into a well-adjusted and productive citizen exemplifies Jeannette’s strength, and Larson does a fantastic job bringing all her dimensions – plus the rage, the fear, the vulnerability – to an award-worthy portrayal. Harrelson, last seen in War for the Planet of the Apes, turns in a masterful performance, playing a broken family man who refuses to give up his delusions and the deep-seated beliefs (and eccentricities) that come to define his life. 

The Glass Castle is simply an unforgettable tale of the ties that bind. The relatives that come into our lives make us proud or they make us cringe and hang our heads in shame. But when all is said and done, they’re family. Tyrone’s Verdict: A

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