Film review: The Glass Castle is saved from ruin by a smashing cast

Brie Larson is a vision of tightly coiled indignation in The Glass Castle

SELF-destructive bohemian parents nurture their children with cruelty and cold comfort in The Glass Castle.

Adapted from Jeannette Walls' best-selling memoir of the same title, director Destin Daniel Cretton's tonally uneven picture asks us to believe that formative years marked by abandonment and rejection could inspire four siblings to discover the inner strength and resilience that will stand them in good stead for the future.

It's a harsh lesson in self-preservation, delivered with gusto by an impressive ensemble cast led by Oscar winner Brie Larson.

Those sterling performances, which frequently claw at our hearts, elevate a chronologically fractured script that fails to endear us to a booze-sodden father, who has a mantra to justify every hard knock.

"You learn from living. Everything else is a damn lie," he growls to his battered and bruised offspring.

The script, co-written by Cretton, Andrew Lanham and Marti Noxon, awkwardly juxtaposes scenes of tenderness and neglect, begging us to empathise with characters whose behaviour would – in another time and place – have demanded intervention from social services.

Life is unfair and misfortune leaves scars on all of us, some deeper than others. Journalist Jeannette Walls (Larson) bears her wounds with stoicism, as she celebrates her engagement to nice guy financial adviser, David (Max Greenfield). She eventually breaks the happy news to her father Rex (Woody Harrelson) and mother Rose Mary (Naomi Watts), who raised Jeanette and her three siblings in poverty and chaos.

"David is good for me," argues the journalist.

"You mean he's got money," coldly retorts Rose Mary, who feels certain the relationship is doomed to failure.

Their refusal to share Jeanette's newfound joy catalyses a series of anguished flashbacks that illuminate the destruction wrought by Rex and Rose Mary, like when the very young Jeanette (Chandler Head) sets her dress alight on the kitchen stove because her mother is too preoccupied to cook hot dogs for lunch.

Rex sneaks his badly burned daughter out of hospital and flees into the desert with his rag tag brood including oldest child Lori (Olivia Kate Rice), son Brian (Iain Armitage) and baby Maureen.

Despite her horrific injuries, Jeanette remains devoted to the patriarch. As she grows (now played by Ella Anderson), Jeanette clings onto Rex's fanciful dreams until she can delude herself no longer.

The Glass Castle threatens to shatter before the end of a plodding two hours but the cast provide sufficient glue to hold Cretton's picture together.

Larson is a vision of tightly coiled indignation while Harrelson chews scenery as he careens wildly between alcohol-induced rage and despair, finally confronting the pain he has wrought.

"I spent my whole life running from those demons in the wild," he laments, "and the whole time they were hiding in my belly."

That would explain the picture's bloated midsection.

THE GLASS CASTLE (12A, 123 mins) Drama/Romance. Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, Max Greenfield, Ella Anderson, Olivia Kate Rice, Iain Armitage, Chandler Head. Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

RATING: 5.5/10

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