The Glass Castle: Is the 2017 Movie Based on Real People?

‘The Glass Castle’ is a drama film that revolves around Jeannette Walls and her three siblings. The four children learn to fend for themselves and take care of each other, for their parents, Rex and Rose Walls, can barely take care of themselves on their best days; Rex is an alcoholic, and Rose is a painter who tends to put her art ahead of everybody else. Though all of them go through hardships, their bond as a family remains strong. But is it strong enough to get them through the rest of their lives?

Directed by Destin Daniel Critton, the 2017 film features riveting performances by Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, Max Greenfield, and Sarah Snook. ‘The Glass Castle’ is a story that resonates with many viewers because of the cast’s depiction of this average American family, who are only trying to do the best they can in order to survive and stay together. It’s enough to make one wonder whether the story is based on true events.

The Glass Castle: Memoir to Screen Transition

Yes, ‘The Glass Castle’ is a true story. The film’s screenplay has been adapted from the eponymous memoir by Jeannette Walls, a journalist by trade, who penned down the story of her life and that of her unique but dysfunctional family in the early 2000s. Published in 2005, her memoir was well-received by the critics and public alike and even garnered several awards over the years, such as the Christopher Award and the American Library Association’s Alex Award.

Both the book and its Hollywood adaptation chronicle Jeannette’s life from childhood to adulthood. Born into the Walls family, Jeannette and her siblings have little say in how their parents conduct themselves. But this does not deter them from being live their lives to the fullest, which is in part due to their father, Rex. When Rex is sober, he teaches his children everything from physics to geology by making it fun for them through stories and games. However, these moments are few and far between.

‘The Glass Castle’ is an entirely character-driven film. Brie Larson as an adult Jeannette and Woody Harrelson as Rex Walls are simply phenomenal. Both truly committed to the role so much that the lines between themselves and their characters became blurred. Their impressive performance comes off as so realistic, in fact, that even the real-life Jeannette had nothing but praise for them. “Seeing Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of him [Rex Walls] kind of blew me away because he so captured him,” the author said in an interview with Roger Ebert.

Jeannette further added, “It wasn’t just the imagination. It was also the love of education, the love of learning even though we didn’t always go to a conventional school. It was constantly reading books and, going over the plans for the glass castle, we discussed the math.” When asked about how he prepared for a role as complicated as that of Rex Walls, Woody Harrelson told ScreenSlam, “I did talk to Jeannette, you know. I got to see…there’s stuff of him [Rex Walls] on video, there’s some stuff that he wrote, you know.”

The actor concluded, “I really felt like I had a bead on him pretty quickly, I guess, because there are a lot of similarities between us, you know.” Brie Larson, who portrays Jeannette in ‘The Glass Castle,’ prepared similarly for her role as the journalist by speaking with the author almost constantly. “I think it was over the course of many months. We sort of had an ongoing email chain that went back and forth. Like very long emails, back and forth. And then we’d jump on the phone and do a Skype call…,” Larson said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.

However, Brie Larson isn’t the only one portraying Jeannette. Joining her are two child actors, Chandler Head and Ella Henderson, who depict Jeannette at the age of eight and fourteen. The ‘Captain Marvel’ actress worked with the children to establish a body language for the on-screen Jeannette. Speaking on the same, Larson continued, “…Sometimes I’d do a Skype call with Ella, who was playing one of the younger Jeannettes, because a huge part of this is connecting the dots as you watch this family grow, and we all had to be the same Jeannette.”

Larson added, “Yes, she’s growing up, but there has to be something in our hearts that links us together. So there was a lot of hanging out together and me observing the kids and figuring out what their mannerisms were so I could mimic them for when I played Jeannette.” The biographical film also touches upon the delicate topics of sexual assault, poverty, and isolation. A heartwrenching story of one family’s struggle against insurmountable odds, ‘The Glass Castle’ truly captures the essence of a family. But more than that, it is about the resilience of the human spirit in the pursuit of a better life.

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