Brie Larson plays journalist Jeannette Walls in a film based on her memoir about a tough upbringing. We first meet the heroine working as a high-powered NYC journalist in the 1980s. Through well-dispersed flashbacks, we gradually see beneath her impeccable façade, composed of half-hearted lies about her family origins. She and her three siblings have been raised on the verge of homelessness by nomadic, negligent but free-spirited and magnetic parents (a towering Woody Harrelson with bravura appeal and a fiercely eccentric Naomi Watts) who have rejected all institutionalised comforts. Having no other choice, the kids have had to enter adulthood prematurely, making a private pact to one day leave behind their West Virginia shack and all its broken promises. But can you really turn your back on who you are?
While the answer to this question is an obvious no, its revelation is no less heart-rending. The film is splendidly attentive to the details of the Walls’s eclectic childhood home and elevated by Ella Anderson’s performance as a young Jeannette. It is on the overlong side, but does right by a tough true story that begs neither contempt nor pity. It’s a movie with an emotionally stirring father-daughter story proudly at its core.