YOU can’t choose your family. That seems to be the central ethos of this dysfunctional family drama. And although it fits a familiar mould, it does so with charm, a warm-hearted glow and some genuine things to say about the meaning of family.

We start in 1989 when newspaper columnist Jeannette Wells (Room Oscar winner Brie Larson) is engaged to be married to successful businessman David (Max Greenfield) and lives in a fancy New York City apartment. But we soon discover she didn’t always come from such affluent means.

We then start to flit back and forth between Jeannette’s current life and her nomadic childhood upbringing. Along with her sisters and brother, she grows up moving from rundown house to rundown house under the unique parental guidance of her offbeat parents; overbearing and alcoholic father Rex (Woody Harrelson) and eccentric painter mother Rose Mary (Naomi Watts).

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Stirring the children’s imaginations is a key philosophy of their nurturing but, as we see in the film’s unashamedly harsh moments, that only goes so far. Although it’s not the most subtle film in the world in how it goes about exploring them — and in doing so doesn’t quite reach the level of last year’s similar unconventional family upbringing drama Captain Fantastic — this good old-fashioned tear-jerker wades brazenly into rewarding thematic waters. The cast are all excellent, with Larson and Harrelson in particular making the two most centralised characters really stand out. Larson movingly conveys the entrenched conflict between the love and resentment she feels for her father, Harrelson brings a compelling sense of tragic volatility to a potentially trite character defined by his addiction.

Director Destin Daniel Cretton made a splash with indie drama Short Term 12 (also starring Larson) and he again shows he knows how to take his audience on an emotional journey with the power to reflect our own experiences back at us.

He tackles head-on universally relatable themes of the undeniable rippling effects the personalities and behaviours of our parents during childhood can have on adulthood, accepting people for who they are (warts and all), and the idea of best intentions and admirable aspirations colliding with reality; the title refers to an energy efficient house Rex promises that he’ll build one day without the means do so.

There’s something unashamedly sentimental about this -cinematic endeavour, especially in its neatly tied-up ending. But thanks to fine performances and Cretton’s assured directorial hand, it always stays just on the ride side of the line. It makes for a more than worthwhile journey tinged with pathos and brimming with kind-hearted sincerity.