Poignant ‘The Glass Castle’ is a solid drama about family life

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Jeannette (Brie Larson) is a successful New York gossip columnist who mingles with the elite and has ambitious financial adviser David (Max Greenfield) for a fiance. Nothing about her hints at her hardscrabble upbringing or the scars that it left on her body and her psyche.

But Jeannette can’t put her past behind her. That becomes even more impossible when her uncompromisingly bohemian parents – Rex (Woody Harrelson) and Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) – turn up in New York and begin to threaten her social status with their embarrassing behavior.

Rex is a hardcore idealist who rails against materialism and is unhappy that Jeannette seems to have embraced a lifestyle that he abhors. And not surprisingly, he can’t stand David.

Jeannette loves her father, but she remembers the vagabond existence that she and her siblings were forced to endure because of his neglect, drunkenness and bullheadedness. Rex’s idea of teaching her how to swim was dunking her in a pool. And food was not always on the table.

Rex had always promised Jeannette that he would build the family a house made of glass. But that was never more than a dream, and she can’t help but think of her years with him as a nightmare.

Based on a memoir by Jeannette Walls, “The Glass Castle” is a well-crafted drama about the comforts and insecurities of family life. The film reunites Oscar winner Larson (“Room”) with director Destin Daniel Cretton, who also helmed her breakout film, “Short Term 12.”

Working from a screenplay that he co-wrote with Andrew Lanham (“The Shack”), Cretton skillfully handles the film’s dual time frames to deliver a story that’s undeniably poignant but refreshingly free of cheap sentimentality.

Larson turns in an engaging performance as a woman uncertain about just who she wants to be. But Harrelson comes close to upstaging her, imbuing Rex with a bold and intriguing complexity.

“The Glass Castle” is dramatically sound.

What “The Glass Castle” * 3½ stars out of four * Run time 2:07 * Rating PG-13 * Content Thematic content, language and smoking