Directed By: Gerard Barrett
Starring: Will Poulter, Toni Collette, Jack Reynor
Premiere: This movie premiered at the 2014 Galway Film Festival
Trivia: Toni Collette shot her scenes for this film over a six-day period
It was in my write-up of 2001’s He Died with a Felafel in His Hand that I first told you about Film Movement, a sort of “DVD of the Month” club that specializes in foreign and independent movies. Every four weeks or so, Film Movement sends its subscribers a DVD of its latest offering, and while I was a proud member of the service when it first launched in 2002, I was forced (due to personal issues) to cancel my membership towards the middle of the club’s third year. Well, after revisiting the Film Movement website last October, I decided to renew my subscription, and am once again receiving fascinating motion pictures in the mail. Glassland, a 2014 drama written and directed by Gerard Barrett, was this month’s selection.
Shot in Dublin, Glassland introduces us to John (Jack Raynor), a twentysomething cab driver who spends most of his free time taking care of his alcoholic mother Jean (Toni Collette), with whom he lives. When Jean’s latest drunken binge lands her in the hospital, John decides enough is enough, and searches for a way to get his mother the help she needs. In addition to taking care of his mom, John also regularly visits his brother Kit (Harry Nagle), who, because he has Downs Syndrome, resides in a specialized home (Jean blames Kit for the breakup of her marriage, and refuses to acknowledge him). When not working or trying to keep his family from falling apart, John is usually hanging out with his best friend Shane (Will Poulter), who, in a few short days, will be leaving Dublin to travel abroad.
Shane continually invites John to join him on his upcoming adventure, and though tempted to do so, John realizes he can’t possibly leave his mother, who will surely die if she doesn’t get help soon. Aided by an alcohol abuse counselor named Jim (Michael Smiley), John learns of a treatment center that is willing to take his mother in. Unfortunately, it’s going to cost a lot of money, money that John simply doesn’t have. Knowing he’s in need of funds, John’s boss at the taxi service offers him an opportunity to make a boatload of cash doing something that under normal circumstances John would never do.
How far is John willing to go to save his mother? Is he ready to break the law?
A gut-wrenching family drama, Glassland features exemplary performances from its three leads. John is the glue holding this wounded family together, and as played by Jack Raynor, he’s a concerned yet patient son who remains calm even when his mother’s behavior gets out of hand (he simply sits and listens as Jean, lamenting the breakup of her marriage, refers to his beloved brother Kit as “that thing”). Toni Collette is equally as impressive as Jean, conveying both the joy and the tragedy of drinking to forget (“I don’t even like the taste”, she tells John while sipping wine, “but I like how it makes me feel”). While both characters do sometimes lose control of their emotions (the scene where John drives Jean to an AA meeting is particularly intense), the real strength of their performances shines through in the film’s quieter moments, of which there are plenty (in sequences that are almost entirely silent, director Barrett focuses on the faces of these two characters, and in their eyes we see the heartbreak and anger that’s eating away at them).
Matching them both, though in a more limited capacity, is Will Poulter as Shane, the friend who doesn’t realize how good he has it. While he and John are playing a video game, Shane’s mother Bridie (Darine Ní Dhonnchadha) dotes on her son, bringing him drinks and attempting to hold a conversation with him. Shane, who is more interested in the game, blows her off, and though he doesn’t show it outwardly, we know this must bother John, and sense that he would gladly change places with his callous friend any day of the week.
One of the selling points of the Film Movement service is that it brings you extraordinary movies you might otherwise have never seen. A poignant, moving, and at times even uplifting look at a family in crisis, Glassland is definitely worth a watch.