Glassland Directed by Gerard Barrett
Published Mar 11, 2016Glassland is a grim, unrelenting film that's also quiet and meditative, a more introspective, thoughtful interpretation of the ways in which addicts and their families are driven to do desperate things. And though it features strong central performances by Toni Colette and Jack Reynor, who make expressive use of gestures, sighs and knowing looks, the film suffers from director Gerard Barrett's lack of commitment — Glassland doesn't know if it should show or tell.
John (Reynor) is a Dublin taxi driver who barely makes ends meet supporting his destructively alcoholic mother, Jean (Colette), who turned to drinking after the birth of a son with Down syndrome and the departure of her husband. John is a devoted caretaker with saintly patience, but harbours conflicting feelings of revulsion and adoration for his mother, and begins to crack under the pressure of having no life outside of the small, bleak world he inhabits.
The film's primary narrative trajectory is of a back-and-forth between John devotedly caring for his often-monstrous mother, who delivers an extended, passionate monologue midway through the film on why she drinks and her barely concealed loathing for her other son. Colette acts the hell out of it, but in a film that was previously so understated and subtle, it feels out of place and more than a touch melodramatic.
When Glassland gets addiction right, though, it gets it right, with unflinching scenes of John discovering his mother passed out in bed covered in vomit, Jean screaming and sobbing on a hospital bed as she gets her stomach pumped, shrieking because she can't find her booze as her son looks on silently and recording her rant on his phone so she can see what she's wrought (and ignore the consequences) later. It's horrific and heartbreaking, and says more than the overwrought dialogue.
Glassland's final act deals with some vague, shadowy illegal activity John has ostensibly involved himself in to raise funds to take his mother to an expensive rehab centre. It's not entirely clear what this activity is, but there's no eventual reveal or payoff, making it unclear and difficult to follow. Overall it's a disappointing, albeit fitting, end to a film that's terminally confused about how to tell its story.