REVIEW: The Glass Castle

12 08 2017

There’s a strain of thought currently dominating the conversation around class in America, and it finds best expression in J.D. Vance’s memoir “Hillbilly Elegy.” To loosely sum it up, the argument is that rural white Americans possess a kind of misunderstood nobility that’s mistaken for a lack of sophistication by outsiders. When given a ladder to success rather than treated with scorn, these working-class whites can pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Destin Daniel Cretton’s film adaptation of Jeannette Walls’ searingly personal memoir “The Glass Castle,” thankfully, flies in the face of all that hogwash. Without providing any kind of sociological lecture on structural poverty, he and co-writer Andrew Lanham poke at something profound in their portrayal of some unconventional (and, yes, dangerous) parenting tactics. The ideals of freedom, independence and self-reliance, so baked into the American psyche, are inventions of a wealthy class of men for other landed men. When followed by people without resources and social standing, it can lead to dangerous ends.

One of the first times we see Jeannette’s father Rex, played with usual spitfire intensity by Woody Harrelson, he’s going on a screed against the professional class of doctors for trying to wield their knowledge as a tool to extort hard-working people into paying for expensive treatment. They need to treat young Jeannette for a burn. She received that burn because she had to feed herself while her mother Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) painted, and her dress caught fire on the stove. It’s a moment of pure negligence and irresponsibility in the Walls family. Yet Rex successfully convinces himself that the real issue is not their lack of oversight; instead, it’s the judgment from a class that deems themselves superior when his parenting style is simply an expression of his American values. Sometimes that comes with collateral damage, and he’s willing to live with that.

An older Rex seen later in the film goes on a similar rant about Reaganite economics, though certainly without naming the source. He picks the booming Wall Street financiers as the target of his rage, seemingly because they reap tremendous profits without producing anything tangible to put out in the world. Rex fails to realize, however, that all his tough talk of hard labor rooted in self-determination is rooted in an empty promise. The big dreams for his family, most obviously manifested in the quixotic fantasy “glass castle” he tells Jeannette he will build, will never come to pass so long as they remain mired in poverty.

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REVIEW: Hello, My Name Is Doris

19 03 2016

Hello My Name Is DorisAs a child, I got quite a bit of enjoyment from watching Sally Field’s face become animated with emotion – chiefly, in “Mrs. Doubtfire.” (That dinner scene. Priceless.) Michael Showalter’s “Hello, My Name Is Doris” recognizes her gift for telegraphing emotion and amplifies it. The problem is that he allows scarcely any of her considerable talents to shine through.

As Doris Miller, a quiet accountant and caregiver for her late mother, Field’s performance is half authentic emotion and half GIF-able moments. Whatever humanity might be in the script for Doris gets squandered by her overly burlesqued acting that turns the character into more of a joke than an object of our sympathy and affection.

After her mother’s funeral in the first scene, Doris’ attention can go in any number of directions. (Her brother and sister-in-law hope she will clear out all the items she hoards away.) She choose to invest her energy in pursuing a much younger co-worker, Max Greenfield’s John Fremont, for whom she has the hots. Far too often, his boyish good looks reduce her to little more than a fantasizing teenage girl. That’s not to say all women of a certain age on screen must conform to a narrow model of proscribed behavior, but she is the joke of the scene far more often than she is the heart of it.

The flimsiness of character’s personality is only hampered by the silly, cliche-riddled script of “Hello, My Name Is Doris.” Bonus points for not having the slightest idea of how Facebook works in 2016. Field deserves something better to work with for her first step into the leading woman spotlight in quite some time. C+2stars