(director/writer: Destin Daniel Cretton; screenwriter: Andrew Lanham/novel by Jeannette Walls; cinematographer: Bret Pawlak; editor: Nat Sanders; music: Joel P West; cast: Brie Larson (Jeannette), Woody Harrelson (Rex), Naomi Watts (Rose Mary), Sarah Snook (Lori), Max Greenfield (David), Robin Bartlett (Erma), Ella Anderson (Young Jeanette), Chandler Head (), Josh Caras (Brian), Shree Grace Crooks (Young Maureen), Brigette Lundy-Paine (Maureen), Charlie Shotwell (Young Brian), Iain Armitage (Youngest Brian, Sadie Sink (Young Lori), Olivia Kate Rice (Youngest Lori), Eden Grace Redfield (Youngest Maureen), Joe Pingue (Uncle Stanley), A.J. Henderson (Grandpa Walls), Dominic Bogart(Robbie); Runtime: 127; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Gil Netter, Ken Kao; Lionsgate; 2017)

If you really want to know her story, you might have to read the book.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

I found it a torture to sit through this overlong fluff piece about the adventures of an eccentric family trying to survive while off the grid. It’s based on the 2005 memoir of the former gossip columnist of the 1980s Jeannette Walls, and is flatly co-written by Andrew Lanham and the director. Destin Daniel Cretton (“Short Term 12”) misdirects it as a contrived and artificial looking story. The memoir might have been real and involving and didn’t hold back on telling of the affects of poverty on children growing up in marginalized homes, but the film is merely phony Hollywood goo. It tells of the Walls’s alcoholic and overbearing patriarch, Rex Walls (Woody Harrelson), his feisty but mentally unstable wife Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) and their four children living without modern conveniences such as toilets, heat, electricity and plumbing. It’s a family of drifters who briefly lived in Appalachia. The kids were at risk living with their neglectful wannabe artist mom. Only dad was worse, as he went on drinking binges and always had them on the move as they fled the law and the bill collectors.Brie Larson, who starred in Cretton’s Short Term 12, plays the adult Jeannette – and it’s through her eyes as now a successful New York columnist we see how she grew up in such a deplorable home and survived. The moment the adult Jeanette spots her parents sifting through a Manhattan dumpster, in a city where they now live in an abandoned building as squatters, the flashbacks will reveal her terrible upbringing. The title is derived from a dreamy Rex telling his young daughter Jeanette (Ella Anderson) that one day he will build her a glass castle. Of course, he doesn’t keep this promise or most of the promises he makes to his vagabond family. The sanitized feel-good film never generates the raw emotions and anger Jeanette must have felt. We observe how she tells her tale of woe after she marries against her dad’s wishes a nice guy, straitlaced investment banker, David (Max Greenfield), and is able to look back in horror at her misspent childhood. If you really want to know her story, you might have to read the book.