(M) Jack Reynor, Tony Collette, Will Poulter
Glassland is a short but powerful film about hope, unconditional love and unwavering sacrifice. Director Gerard Barrett focuses on a dark realism rarely shown on screen. Although the storyline and characters probably won’t garner a mainstream audience, Barrett uses this to his advantage and pushes the envelope in every way possible.
Jack (Jack Reynor) lives with his mother Jean (Tony Collette) in a Dublin social housing district. He is barely making ends meet for himself and his alcoholic mum, until one morning he finds Jean unconscious. Her latest binge isn’t the first time Jean has been close to drinking herself to death, and Jack is fed up. His life is torn between being a normal teen with his friend Shane (Will Poulter), and playing the parent to his own mother. Jack’s only hope of saving his mother’s life is to get Jean into a rehab clinic. The thought of this, though, makes Jean even more unpredictable and irritable. Jack, somehow, needs to find a way to pay for this expensive private treatment.
Glassland is a moody film, intensified ten-fold by extreme cinematic techniques. The best scenes consist of no words and no music, along with dark backdrops that make you feel incredibly claustrophobic and vulnerable. The deteriorating house in which Jack and Jean live feels like a tiny rotting room from which there is no escape. When the characters are in scene, the walls box the audience in and add to the hopelessness of Jack and Jean’s experience. The long silences bring out a complex mixture of emotions – sadness, pity, love, confusion – and enhance the cinematography.
The complicated love story is what makes Glassland such a compelling watch. The story of a loveless mother and a down-and-out son at his wits’ end, is so emotionally gruesome that you can’t look away. It is a bleak portrayal of a seemingly unhealthy relationship and family life. It does have depth and character though, that I think is rarely seen in mainstream films about something that could have been trivialized as a ’family values’ film. Often families in Hollywood are glossed over as upper-middle-class, comfortable and suburban – whereas Glassland pulls no punches in showing the stark reality of life at the margins of society.
As usual, Collette gives a truly outstanding performance in this film. Her portrayal as emotionally detached mother and physically deteriorating alcoholic hits all the right notes. The most memorable of scenes features Jean screaming at Jack after he has thrown out all the alcohol in the house – no hint of an Australian accent; just powerful rage and believable experience. Jack Reynor too adds to this powerful duo on screen – he is a patient, yet realistic son who could be described by some as an enabler with good intentions.
Unfortunately, halfway through the film, it crosses a line where the audience stops following what’s going on. Jack has some unclear scheme to pay for his mother’s rehab, maybe around human trafficking, but the director assumes far too much and gives away far too little. The height of tension in Glassland is left to fall flat, leaving us to scratch our heads with what just happened.
Barrett expects too much of the audience, leaving complete confusion rather than what could have been a successful ending open for interpretation.
What does the Bible say about sacrifice? (Romans 5:8)
What does the Bible say about addiction? (1 Corinthians 10:13)