By Don Simpson | February 12, 2016
Director: Gerard Barrett
Writer: Gerard Barrett
Starring: Jack Reynor, Toni Collette, Will Poulter, Michael Smiley, Harry Nagle
Unlike the piles of dirty dishes in this kitchen sink drama, Jean’s (Toni Collette) alcoholism cannot be ignored any longer; but Jean has absolutely no intention of avoiding alcohol, despite her ever-deteriorating liver. Jean is unrequitedly supported by her twentysomething son, John (Jack Reynor), who perpetually struggles to get hours as a cabbie in their south Dublin social housing project.
When John finds his mother unconscious in a puddle of her own vomit, his initial reaction is one of tremendous fear, but he quickly snaps into the rote process of getting Jean to the hospital. This is obviously something John has seen and done many times before. John tries to hide Jean’s alcohol. He also threatens to abandon her. Nothing seems to influence Jean’s behavior. It seems John’s only chance of saving his mother from certain kidney failure is a treatment center that is recommended by Jean’s AA sponsor (Michael Smiley). There is one hitch, however, John cannot afford it, so John is left with no other option but to earn money the old fashioned way, via criminality.
It is extremely rare that a film dealing with familiar alcoholism is portrayed with such subtlety and naturalism. Writer-director Gerard Barrett’s Glassland skillfully avoids becoming a heavy-handed or formulaic melodrama. Conversely, Barrett’s dour, mellow drama makes no moral statements and refuses to cast judgment against its characters. The camera’s perspective remains completely passive, like a fly on the wall. Barrett allows us the appropriate space and freedom to come to our own conclusions about the film’s protagonists. The one exception is John’s 18-year-old brother, Kit (Harry Nagle). We learn that Jean disowned Kit because he has Down syndrome, but it is clear that John unabashedly loves his brother. Kit is a device for Barrett to emphasize Jean’s poor judgment, giving us all the more reason to dislike her. All the while, Barrett uses Kit as a tool to highlight John’s capacity for kindness and love.
Glassland is a keen representation of the impacts of Jean and John’s socioeconomic status, specifically the direct relationship between alcoholism and poverty. Barrett’s unflinchingly unpropitious portrayal of Jean and John’s toxically familiar relationship is hopelessly bleak. Glassland may not be an enjoyable cinematic experience, but it is certainly an essential one, with astounding lead performances by both Toni Collette and Jack Reynor.