Glassland is a tough watch, as it should be; this Dublin-set story is concerned with the struggles of an alcoholic (Toni Colette, successfully camouflaging her Australian accent) and the related woes of her carer/taxi driver son (played by Jack Reynor, also impressive), whose impotence in the face of his mother’s illness leaves him immensely frustrated. The tone is set within five minutes as Reynor’s John finds Colette’s Jean passed out in bed and surrounded by her own vomit; in the wake of this near-death experience there are only fleeting scenes that offer any semblance of hope, and much of Gerard Barrett’s second film (his first, Pilgrim Hill, received positive notices) focuses on John’s despair as he works long hours and returns home each morning to empty bottles, a messy house and an unconscious mother.
The flickering moments of happiness do appear with some regularity: Jean and John bond over a bottle of wine and a dash of Soft Cell, but the frivolity soon gives way to a monologue that is heavy on pathos as Jean explains her reasons for the non-existent relationship with second child Kit (Harry Nagle), who has Down’s syndrome. Meanwhile John’s mouthy best friend Shane (Will Poulter) represents a glimpse of a life with slightly better fortune: his mum cares for him deeply and Shane is able to leave Dublin to look for work, with jobs apparently scarce in the capital.
John can’t follow, and is tethered to the city because of an overwhelming sense of duty. He works at night, usually ferrying prostitutes to their clients, but the job keeps him out of the house and offers some respite from the troubles at home. Reynor’s character is trapped by circumstance and duty, though, and there appears to be no easy solution for him in this kitchen sink drama; Ireland’s Heath Service Executive is painted in a negative light and in order to treat Jean’s illness John must burden himself with new financial pressures. Little wonder that by the end of the film he seems utterly exhausted by the experience (though there is, thankfully, a final optimistic note). Shot under dark skies that seem permanently ready to soak the streets below, Glassland has a wholly-necessary bleakness and the external, colour-drained scenes are generally complemented by dark, naturally-lit interiors. As a study of alcoholism it is weighted in favour of the carer, but there is still plenty of insight into the mindset of an alcoholic and Barrett explores the relationship between mother and son thoroughly (fathers are absent in this film, except for one short scene in which we learn that Shane has fathered a child at a young age; it looks as if he is separated from the child’s mother and has little to do with the baby in question). This is a raw, upsetting film, though given the subject matter that’s hardly a surprise, and it is terrifically-acted.
Directed by: Gerard Barrett.
Written by: Gerard Barrett.
Starring: Jack Reynor, Toni Colette, Will Poulter, Michael Smiley.
Cinematography: Piers McGrail.
Editing: Nathan Nugent.
Running Time: 92 minutes.