Jul 24

“Leave No Trace”: Father-Daughter Isolation

Leave No Trace deserves the high praise it’s been receiving for the direction of Debra Granik, who was also behind Winter’s Bone, and the performances of both leads—Ben Foster (Will) and Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie (Tom), who play father with PTSD and his teen daughter.

Moreover, echoed in various reviews: “…Leave No Trace is one of the best films of 2018 and promises to make a star of McKenzie” (David Sims, The Atlantic).

Adapted from Peter Rock‘s novel My Abandonment (2009), the hauntingly effective Leave No Trace “explores, with acute sensitivity and narrative finesse, how trauma molds a family’s life, threatens to spill over into the next generation, and might finally be withstood” (Inkoo Kang, Slate).

Which war Will fought in and why he suffers from PTSD, we never learn. Such details seem beside the point when we meet him and his daughter in Forest Park, a 5,000-acre natural preserve off downtown Portland, Oregon. Father and child sleep in a tent, drink rainwater, and subsist on boiled eggs and foraged mushrooms—and when that’s not enough, groceries from a nearby supermarket. (For money, Will sells prescription meds to a camp of veterans who have settled elsewhere in the park.) When Will and Tom are discovered by police—for sleeping on government property, not the drug deals—the authorities have just as much trouble categorizing them as we do. Will and the unschooled Tom aren’t exactly survivalists, or off the grid, or homeless, but there’s truth to those labels, too. The two would prefer to be left alone to their devices. But after officials place them in a comfortable home in a small town where Will is immediately offered a job and Tom encounters kids her own age, it becomes clearer how much wartime trauma has affected their lives—and how much further it’ll continue to do so.

Peter Debruge, Variety: “After being discovered in the nature preserve, Will and Tom are both interrogated by social workers. Our sympathy is with them, and yet, the authorities seem to have a point: Tom needs a chance to interact with other people, a fact McKenzie so effortlessly conveys via the wide-eyed curiosity Tom shows toward a world she has been taught to distrust, but which now holds considerable appeal for her — including not only boys, but the prospect of making friends her age.”

Ty Burr, Boston Globe: “As the two are shuffled through a detainment center, we glimpse a conflict of humane impulses and inhuman tactics. Will is forced to endure a 468-question computerized test designed to look for PTSD that practically induces PTSD; the man administering the test, by contrast, makes a more direct emotional connection. Tom understands that the social worker (Dana Millican) assigned to her has the girl’s best interests in mind. The old farmer (Jeff Kober) who provides the two with a house wants to bring Will back into the working and religious fold. The enemies are elsewhere, setting policy and sending people like Will to war.”

The Trailer:

Selected Reviews

Tomris Laffly, rogerebert.com: “This gentle, miracle of a film is almost an antidote to Matt Ross’ “Captain Fantastic,” a 2016 Sundance title that explores similar themes in a comparatively showy, crude fashion.”

Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com:  “Granik shows great insight into the struggles of those who choose to ‘opt out,’ those who just want to be left alone, those who literally can’t ‘fit in’ to the larger world. At its very best, it is an immensely moving portrait of a father and daughter who love each other, and who can’t bear to be apart.”

Jon Frosch, Hollywood Reporter: “The filmmaker has crafted an unusual coming-of-age tale, in which a teen declares independence from her parent gradually, gingerly, with tact and consideration rather than rebelliousness.”

Aug 11

“The Glass Castle”: Best Selling Book to Film

 A young girl comes of age in a dysfunctional family of nonconformist nomads with a mother who’s an eccentric artist and an alcoholic father who would stir the children’s imagination with hope as a distraction to their poverty. IMDB description of The Glass Castle

Home goes wherever we go. Tagline to The Glass Castle

Long-term best seller The Glass Castle: A Memoir, by Jeannette Walls, now has an eagerly awaited movie version.


Book critic Francine Prose, New York Times, stated about it that “…what’s best is the deceptive ease with which she makes us see just how she and her siblings were convinced that their turbulent life was a glorious adventure.”

More book details from Publishers Weekly:

…Walls’s parents—just two of the unforgettable characters in this excellent, unusual book—were a matched pair of eccentrics, and raising four children didn’t conventionalize either of them. Her father was a self-taught man, a would-be inventor who could stay longer at a poker table than at most jobs and had ‘a little bit of a drinking situation,’as her mother put it. With a fantastic storytelling knack, Walls describes her artist mom’s great gift for rationalizing…The Walls children learned to support themselves, eating out of trashcans at school or painting their skin so the holes in their pants didn’t show.

Kirkus Reviews: “The author’s tell-it-like-it-was memoir is moving because it’s unsentimental; she neither demonizes nor idealizes her parents, and there remains an admirable libertarian quality about them, though it justifiably elicits the children’s exasperation and disgust. Walls’s journalistic bare-bones style makes for a chilling, wrenching, incredible testimony of childhood neglect.”


“‘The Glass Castle,’ states Peter Debruge, Variety, “catches up with Walls at the moment in her life when she finally came to terms with her father (which has taken a bit of creative fictionalization, but remains remarkably true to the book).”

Debruge further introduces Destin Daniel Cretton‘s film, which features the highly regarded Brie Larson as the lead:

…She’s engaged to a successful investment banker (Max Greenfield) and looks like a character out of ‘The Bonfire of the Vanities,’ with her fancy high-society hairdo, pearl necklace and stiff-shouldered blouse. No one would guess that this charming, seemingly cultured woman once ate a stick of butter and sugar because there had been nothing else in the house — a house without running water or electricity.

The trailer:


Critics are divided over whether the movie does the book justice. Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter, believes, on the one hand, that The Glass Castle “successfully captures the essence of the memoir, with exceptionally potent work by Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts as the spirited, self-involved and willfully impoverished bohemians who subjected their four kids to a peripatetic, hardscrabble life but also, in the process, taught them to fend for themselves.”

Claudia Puig, The Wrap, concludes, though, that it’s “a far better book than movie” and “feels like a cloying, one-note Hollywood tale, the beastly trauma all tied up with a pretty bow and de-fanged.”