Director: Gerard Barrett
Cast: Jack Reynor, Toni Collette
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“You’re breaking my heart,” cries John (Reynor) to his mum (Collette) halfway through Glassland. It’s the kind of line you might expect to hear in a soap opera or low-budget domestic tale. This small Irish drama may open with a kitchen sink, but it soon starts to carry an emotional clout that many bigger films could only wish for.
Jean, we discover, has an alcohol problem, something that has rendered her the child in this mother-child relationship. Jack, meanwhile, tries to support her (and himself) by carrying out increasingly dodgy jobs in his cab. It’s a story that unfolds with excruciating pain but with painstaking attention to tiny detail; the temptation to go bigger with its brush strokes is resisted throughout.
Reynor is perfectly understated as the loyal, desperate offspring, who is naturally bound to the woman whose condition is ruining both of their lives. Collette, meanwhile, is terrifying, at times resembling an extra from The Walking Dead more than a human. Their quiet chemistry is sad to witness, as they attempt to dance through their council house to the strains of Soft Cell’s Tainted Love.
It’s an existence that is neatly summed up in writer-director Gerard Barrett’s title, which captures the fragility of her recovery as well as the claustrophobic hemming in it brings. It’s a pleasure to see Will Poulter (who was similarly powerful in his own parental drama, Wild Bill) as Jack’s friend, Shane, while Michael Smiley’s sympathetic AA counsellor is a moving demonstration that some gentleness does exist in this world of jagged edges.
Barrett, now on his second film, keeps his presence to a minimum, his un-distracting camera merely observing the tangled ties between parent, child (wanted and unwanted alike) and addiction. One powerful scene in a car leaves us sitting on the back seat, like a kid buckled in, as an argument unfolds in the front. Glassland breaks your heat – and makes sure you feel every shard.