“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.

“Hello, My Name Is Doris”

The boomer demographic and filmscripts for older actresses are lighting up movie houses all over the U.S.  Maggie Smith  in ” The Lady In A Van” ( reviewed  here March 1, 2016) and now Sally Fields in “Hello, My Name Is Doris” are examples. I will always remember Fields as ” Norma Rae”. Here she is more akin to the mother of Forest Gump, dutiful and dreamy. Our Doris, named after Doris Day, is working as an accountant at a firm that has just hired a young art director ( Max Greenfield).

After an initial casket and funereal scene, we see the bereaved Doris crammed into an elevator facing the thirty-something John, newly hired from Malibu,CA. He is super-friendly and states that their nose-to-forehead-closeness is a tad embarrassing. “Tight quarters” leads to his straightening her cat-eye glasses. Doris is smitten. We know no man has paid her this much attention in quite a while. She lifts a pencil from his satchel as he turns to exit. Doris has hoarder tendencies and is sentimental,  a romance novel reader and believer. John Freeman,art director, is the object of Doris’s libidinal urges. Now, the fun begins.

Doris, free from caring for her elderly mother, becomes youth-stalker. She elicits her friend Roz’s (Tyne Daly) grandaughter to show her the ins & outs of Facebook. The thirteen-year-old Vivian (  Isabella Acres)  becomes Doris’ dating advisor. They set up a phony Facebook account and “get in” with the name “Lilith Primrose”. Viv nixes Doris ‘ selection of a more British “Lilith Comeswell”!

Further Facebook research reveals that John likes Indian food, yoga, and electronic music,especially “Baby Goya And The Nuclear Winters”.  Viv notices there is a concert scheduled for the city and prompts Doris to go wearing neon colors. She sees John there, he calls her “a Baller”, which she learns from Viv is a “good thing”.  With her usual hair piece, headband and weirdness, Doris is asked to be on the promotional cover of Baby Goya’s new album. Ultimately, she is picked up on John’s shoulders and made a celebrity in her own right. Funny dialogue ensues when she is asked for her digits ( her phone number), when John ‘s party friends discuss teaching at the gay pre-school, and she joins a LGBT rooftop knitting community with John’s romantic interest Brooklyn, her now rival.

When Brooklyn explains that she is not gay, but  just feels at home in this group, Doris pipes in that she feels this way at Staples. There are hilarious scenes of  staged seduction like when Doris asks John to pump up the balance ball she now must use as a substitute for the “outre” standard office chair. The audience more than guffawed during this extended rise.

There is plenty more humor, but also a creepiness to this film. Doris with her 1970 duck sauce still in the fridge is not normal,and is beyond poodle-skirted eccentric. She pretends she is someone else, and breaks-up a relationship to get what she wants. Her previous self-sacrifice gives her a right to cheat in her eyes.

The real theme may be friendship. A true friend forgives and allows mistakes. Roz’s role is a grand one. She frequents the slow lane at the gym, self-improvement lectures, and home-cooked dinners with Doris. We learn that Roz’s daughter is up for parole this summer, that Doris was once engaged at 21 to a journalism student and that they both lost the men in their lives through jobs or illness. They are critical of each other’s choices and ways, but accepting and loving all the same. The “I am possible” becomes true because of this acceptance. We have all felt ” someone has replaced my friend with a wild animal”, but loved the animal anyway. We have all hugged a friend as they cried, “no one even tasted my pie.”

Realistic topics like dividing property among family members and composing three hoarder piles of “trash”, “donate” and “keep” are easy to assimilate. Agreements and disappointments are part of most families. Doris’s brother Todd ( Stephen Root) will register with most single care-givers. Director Michael Showalter and co- writer Laura Terruso use quirky satire-cum-neurosis to make the pitiful get another chance.

Enjoy the “orphan” Thanksgiving,  Sally Field’s jealous looks, the  table-game playing and the evil sister-in-law, Cynthia. Argue about the ending. ” I never meant to hurt anyone, but smoke got in my eyes” has me betting that Doris stays close to Roz. I rather hope Brooklyn (Beth Behrs) learns the truth and reconnects with the darling Max Freeman, whose charming warmth deserves a woman who does not lie.