Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson star in uneven biopic of writer Jeannette Walls

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“The Glass Castle” could just as easily be named “Child Endangerment: The Movie.”

This topsy-turvy biopic of writer Jeannette Walls chronicles the highly unstable living conditions of Walls’ childhood, beginning with her lighting herself on fire while cooking herself hot dogs on the stove as a toddler.

Things don’t get much better from there, as her alcoholic and abusive father Rex (Woody Harrelson) puts her and her three siblings through a gamut of emotional and physical turmoil, living some nightmare version of what he thinks is a hippie fantasy. Mom (Naomi Watts), who swoons when Rex throws her out of a second story window, isn’t much better. Most people would crumble under such weight. Walls was able to pull herself together and thrive as a writer in New York City.

Academy Award winner Brie Larson stars as the adult Walls, who as the story picks up in 1989, is getting ready to marry her straight-laced boyfriend (Max Greenfield). But the majority of the story takes place in flashback during Walls’ childhood, and scene after scene details Rex’s relentlessly abusive behavior toward his family. It’s not so much harrowing as it is repetitive, and the film gets stuck in a single gear it can’t get itself out of.

Harrelson, on a roll in recent years, gives Rex the devilish charm that made him such a complex character — a monster, sure, but a wily spirit fighting his own abusive past who couldn’t overcome his personal struggles — but the characterization can’t sustain the film’s heavy-handed tone.

Director Destin Daniel Cretton, who also made (the much better) “Short Term 12” with Larson, wants you to feel warm and fuzzy toward Rex at the end of the film, an emotion he at no point earns during the course of the movie. Mostly you’re just happy that the neglect is finally over.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘The Glass Castle’

GRADE: C-

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving family dysfunction, and for some language and smoking

Running time: 127 minutes

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