“The Glass Castle”

Loved the book, “The Glass Castle” by Jeanette Walls. Did not care for the screenplay, which focused mostly on the alcoholism of the father and left a much more angry Jeanette Walls than the book left us. Trying to make complicated family dynamics simpler may have been the reason for cutting key elements of the Walls’ family story and adding others. Why leave the hidden candy bar episode of the mother out? Why have Jeanette leave her husband as she moves on to freelance writing? Why exclude a siblings loss? Why not show the children foraging for food as they spent so much of the book doing?

The film’s tone is much more judgmental than the book’s breezy spirit. Counter culture beliefs are made to look like they stem from mental illness or from “losers” who can’t hold a job. The acting is top knotch: it is screenplay that misses the mark. The back and forth flashbacks are ill-timed. Writer/Director Daniel Cretton also must deal with some poor sound quality. Cretton’s artful repetition of the water boiling scene was a symbolic plus.

The non-conformity of Jeanette Wall’s parents is played beautifully by Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson. “Turbulence and disorder” rule creativity, even if the basic needs of safety and nutrition are neglected. As artist mother Rose Mary’s (Naomi Watts) logic surmises, “food will be gone in an hour, but an oil painting will last forever.” For four children who have not eaten in three days, this misses the fact that they may not be around to gaze at canvases. Still Rose Mary’s yellow doors on every domicile will move you.

Woody Harrelson has never been better than he is as Rex, Jeanette’s father. His family wolf calls, his windowed-castle blueprints, and his tenderness toward Jeanette’s burn scars outshine his drunken recklessness. He puts Jeanette in harms way, yet believes she can fend for herself. His skedaddling if often a betrayal of nurture. He can be brilliant and then dastardly drunken-crazy within the same afternoon.

Brie Larson plays the adult Jeanette; Chandler Head plays Jeanette as a child; Ellen Anderson plays the teenaged Jeanette. All are arrestingly good. David, Jeanette husband ( Max Greenfield) weathers his part well. When Jeanette admonishes him with, ” When it comes to my family, let me do the lying !”, we cringe with him. Robin Barlett as the abusive, West Virginia gramma will keep people from naming their offspring Erma.

Yet, I loved being reminded of Jeanette’s story. I spoke with her for eight minutes during her Indianapolis book tour, and immediately liked her easy warmth and truth-telling. I did not get the same vibe from Brie Larson’s portrayal. I hold the screenwriters and the director at fault. Wall’s tale is one of acceptance and acknowledgement of lessons learned. Her hard-scrabble youth did not focus on forgiveness or the need for parental atonement. She did not see herself as a victim. Read her 2005 book and see what I mean.

“Room”

It is not until you walk out of the theatre,that director Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room” crumples you into tears. I can’t say that I have seen a film that honors motherhood like this one does. An imprisoned 17 year-old girl sacrifices her grief in losing the world to raise her son in a sound- proofed shed. Held for seven years in a windowless but sky-lighted room 10′ by 10′ , she  manages to keep her child safe and occupied. When he is  five , she comes up with a plan to free them both.

I have not read Emma Donoghue’s novel, but I think her script shows the psychology of captivity in a unique way. Unlike the war film “Unbroken”, Brie Larson as Joy must create a reality that does not entail loss. The film begins with”once upon a time” as Jack shows us his world :Good morning lamp,good morning rug, good morning chair number two . He remarks on his ma’s toothache. She responds “Mind over matter”. He jokes and affirms with, “If you don’t mind,it doesn’t matter.” The two show their bonding as they exercise like frogs,bathe, break eggs to bake a cake and complete art projects. Much of the time they discuss what is real. The television is flat and Dora, the Explorer is not real. Because, “Where would they all fit?” ,Jack reasons.

Jacob Tremblay is Jack and his performance is nuanced and arresting. His temper,his mouse feedings, his imagination brings normalcy to Joy. When he asks about “old Nick”, Joy’s nightly visitor, she tells Jack only that ” he is not our friend.” Jack is to  stay in the slatted closet when old Nick brings food or stays the night. One of the most harrowing scenes is when Jack leaves the closet and steps over Old Nick’s discarded shoes. The captor is awakened and a fight ensues with Joy screaming “Don’t touch him!”  His strangle hold on Joy and his “Don’t forget where you got him” leaves hysterical apologies from Jack. A plan is hatched that rests on the savvy of a five -year -old.

The second half of the film maybe the most psychologically tasking. Joy’s mother and father have divorced. As Joan Allen so aptly says this crime has changed the lives of all of them. Wm. Macy loses his daughter when he can not accept Jack,who became Joy’s salvation. A live-media interview throws Joy. Insensitive questions hinder Joy re-entering the world. For awhile, she focuses on what she has lost. Allen, as her mother, shows Joy the way. The return to the room is closure for both Jack, who sees the shed as home,and for Joy,who can accept what she made real for her son. I was shaken by the reminder of what motherly love can do.