This post was written by Colin Free on October 11, 2017
In the 1960s, Rex (Woody Harrelson) and Rose (Naomi Watts) are bringing up four kids in an unconventional way. Moving from place-to-place, usually squatting in a rural home, often without water or electricity, the kids don’t attend school.
Rex works in construction but because of his drinking he frequently loses jobs and gets into trouble resulting in the family having to make a hasty exit from their home. Rose is a bad artist who doesn’t appear to sell any of her paintings. Brie Larsen stars as the older Jeannette in scenes set in the 1980s. She has escaped from her nightmare upbringing, is a successful journalist, and engaged to a wealthy banker, all to her father’s disgust.
Writer Jeannette Walls’ autobiography has been brought to the big screen with somewhat of a whimper. It had a limited release and I saw this in a large auditorium with no one else present. This story was never going to be a box office smash but it also has the misfortune to be very similar to last year’s Captain Fantastic. It even shares two of the child actors.
It starts reasonably enough and I admit to being intrigued about the family’s situation but as the film unfolds it has some major issues. The running time at over two hours is excessive for the material and tedium starts to set in at the halfway point. Harrelson and Watts are normally good performers but here they are allowed to overact by director Destin Daniel Cretton. Harrelson in particular is cartoonishly over the top.
Rex comes across as a terrible parent and a horrible human being. With that in mind, and in trying to garner some audience sympathy, a couple of clunky scenes are added to show him a good light. One in particular at a swimming pool where he makes a stand against racial segregation does not ring true based on how the character is depicted for the most part. This all leads up to a dismal last 15 minutes where Jeannette has a change of heart and reunites with her father. How much of the story is true I don’t know, but the way it is presented to us, it stretches belief.
The main redeeming factor is Larson’s performance. Her choices of films are not always the best, but she is almost always excellent and I wish I had learnt a bit more about her life after she left the family home.
Rating: 5 out of 10