Irish writer-director Gerard Barrett’s Glassland is a grim look at the agony and drudgery faced by a working-class Dublin boy (Jack Reynor) whose mother (Toni Collette) suffers from debilitating alcoholism.
Collette’s performance is outsize — at any moment her Jean might be snarling, crumpled in tears or bursting out in sudden laughter — and so is her stature in John’s life, which contains little else aside from long, lonely drives in his taxi, a few hangs with best buddy Shane (The Revenant‘s Will Poulter), and conversations with the earnest counselor (Michael Smiley) who tries to help him finance Jean’s treatment. Her addiction is the center of both their worlds, while everyone else seems far away and receding further.
Barrett faces the daunting task of trying to contain Collette’s tumultuous performance, and he struggles to make Reynor’s more restrained turn work in the same space. The film trudges along in Collette’s wake, fumbling for something to focus on apart from the bleeding wound just offscreen.
John seems to be the latest avatar of Britain’s abandoned youth, a topic well covered by directors like Clio Barnard and Andrea Arnold; Reynor brings an air of forced calm to the role that hints at John’s inner turmoil, but Barrett’s screenplay lacks context and attention to detail. Most of John’s time away from Jean is spent boxed silently in his cab. He goes to some shady lengths to overcome their financial hurdles, though the specifics are obscure, mirroring the film’s overall dim, claustrophobic aesthetic.
But when the camera settles on Collette, it can’t leave: One monologue toward the middle of the film lingers so long on her, seated on a couch in front of a sickly colored wall, that it may give you cramps.
Directed by Gerard Barrett
Opens February 12, Cinema Village
Available on demand