Based on Jeanette Walls’ memoir of the same name, The Glass Castle hits theaters this weekend. The movie follows Walls beginning in early childhood as she and her sisters are constantly being moved around from one unusual environment to the next by their unconventional parents Rex (Woody Harrelson) and Rose Mary (Naomi Watts). The two believe they are giving their children something unique, teaching them to be self-reliant and not lead conventional lives.
Adult Jeanette (Brie Larson) doesn’t remember those years quite as fondly. Now settled into a successful career and comfortable life in New York, she once more has to deal with the emotional baggage heaped on her by her parents and the scars they’ve left behind. It’s not all negative, though, as she also realizes they did what they could and if nothing else gave her and her sisters a passion for life.
Larson appears only by name on the first poster, which shows her character Jeannette as a young child perched on Rex’s shoulders as they walk through the desert. “Home goes wherever we go” reads the copy, setting up the expectation that there’s a nomadic or unstable element to the family dynamic.
A second poster makes the family story more explicit, showing Harrelson and everyone else walking toward a dilapidated house in an image that fades into Larson’s head, conveying that it’s from her memory and thoughts. The copy on this reads “Find beauty in the struggle,” which is a different message than what’s sold on the first poster. The main goal here is to sell Larson’s presence, which was missing from that earlier effort.
The first trailer is heavily focused on setting up the conflict between father and daughter. We see Rex and Lori as parents of young children who are making unorthodox choices such as taking them out of school and moving from one ramshackle house to the next as debts build up and jobs fail. Those scenes are intercut with Jeannette, one of those kids, as an adult who’s living the high-glam life in New York City. That doesn’t sit particularly well with Rex in particular, who sees it as a rejection of his choices. She holds some resentment toward both her parents for the situation of her childhood but it’s clear she still loves them and isn’t ready to cut them out completely.
It’s great to see Larson back in a character-driven drama like this after a few franchise, big-budget movies. She and Harrelson are clearly the focal relationship that’s explored here. Basically, this looks like “Captain Fantastic: 10 Years Later” as the kids realize their nut job of a father screwed them up in serious ways. More seriously, it looks like an interesting exploration of what does and doesn’t constitute happiness and truth.
A second short trailer hit many of the same beats, just in condensed fashion.
Online and Social
The home page of the movie’s official website opens with a recreation of the key art showing memories literally walking through Walls’ head along with the cast’s credentials and more. There are also links in the lower left if you’d like to check out the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles for the film.
Click over to “Story” and you’re given a decent synopsis that is focused on establishing that yes, this is based on the memoir everyone read a few years ago. After that is “Cast,” which just offers full-screen images of each actor in-character along with their name and the name of the person he or she plays. Surprising that there’s no additional information here.
“Videos” just has the main trailer and the site pretty much finishes up with a “Gallery” containing a few production stills.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV spots like this one made the same case for the movie as the trailer, just in shorter form. We hear about how the family isn’t normal and the girls, including Jeanette, are being raised to live free and fearlessly. It’s a good spot that shows off the performances and highlights the emotional drama of the story, particularly the conflict and love between Jeanette and her father.
There was also a bit of online and social advertising done, the former using the key art of Larson and the family memory moving through her mind, the latter using the trailers on Twitter or Facebook.
Media and Publicity
The first look at the movie came in Entertainment Weekly, which shared photos of Larsen and the rest of the cast.
The real-life Walls got involved in the publicity as well, giving a few interviews to talk about her family, the source book and the new movie, including sharing which scenes from the film made her cry, how fears and warnings about Hollywood messing with her memoir were unwarranted and more.
Larson and Harrelson, in particular, did quite a bit of press, both print and TV, to promote the movie. More often than not, though, conversations about this release were cut short as the host or interviewer looked for updates or information on their other projects such as Star Wars or Captain Marvel. So this movie got short shrift on the press front pretty regularly because someone was looking for a new soundbite about something more likely to generate video views or link clicks.
There’s an overall dreamy feeling the campaign gives off, with everything wrapped the haze of memory and nostalgia. That works to sell the story, which uses memory and childhood stories as a central element. The posters, particularly the second one, make that more overt by showing Larson’s Walls as memories of her family literally walk through her mind. It’s more subtle in the trailers, which show us the juxtaposition of her life then versus her life now and focus on how the relationships in her family have changed as she’s grown older and chosen her own path.
More than anything, for me it’s good to see Larson working in a character-driven story again. I haven’t seen Kong: Skull Island yet, but was entranced by the way she works within the camera’s frame in movies like Room and Short Term 12. The marketing makes sure to emphasize her performance, not surprising as she’s playing the woman whose memoir the story is based on. If there’s one complaint, it’s that the marketing tries too hard to make sure the audience knows things are all tied up emotionally. It would have been sufficient to show the conflict between the adult Walls and her parents who still on an off-the-grid lifestyle, but it too often shows the reconciliation that follows. The studio wants the audience to know it’s a heartwarming story, but removes any tension from the story by doing so.