Sundance 2015 Review – Glassland (2014)


Examining the relationship between mother and son in working class Ireland is Gerard Barrett‘s quietly powerful Glassland.

John (Jack Reynor), a young taxi driver, attempts to help his severely alcoholic mother Jean (Toni Collette) recover from her illness, whilst trying to make ends meet in working class Ireland.

Barrett’s direction takes a low-key, intimate approach that feels like a light observation as opposed to a deep examination. His camera quietly observes the darkness and broken-ambitions in this working class home – seeing John working a dead end job, trying to make a living and putting his dreams on hold, whilst his mother continually crumbles to her addiction, growing increasingly violent and testing her son’s patience.

There is a stirring boldness is in Barrett’s narrative, which gives a warts and all portrait of these broken lives. Despite this, there is an undeniable sweetness at its heart – seeing John quietly bond with struggling mother (after an alcohol-crazed meltdown) makes for warming viewing, best encapsulated in a scene soundtracked with Soft Cell’s Tainted Love. However, the film’s most staggering moment – which is ultimately so surprising that viewers may need a few seconds to recover from the shock – comes in the film’s final act which sees John forced to dip into murky waters to aid his mother.

The narrative dips consistently – scenes with Will Poulter (playing John’s best-friend) feel a little unnecessary, despite highlighting John’s broken ambitions. Fortunately, the performances here are so on-point that Glassland does hold our attentions. Toni Collette‘s fierce performance can be tough to watch, but captures the grimy horror of alcoholism – whilst the actress also lets the warm and loveable mother behind this disease shine through. Reynor is the rock at the heart of the narrative, capturing the continual overbearing disappoint and isolation in having to fix the mistakes of others.

Whilst it cannot be described as enjoyable – it may be a little too slow paced and quiet for some, powerhouse performances and some tender dramatics ensure that Glassland shyly engages.

Andrew McArthur

Genre:Drama Venue:Sundance 2015 Director:Gerard Barrett Cast: Will Poulter, Toni Collette, Jack Reynor, Michael Smiley