Moving Irish drama from Gerard Barrett starring Toni Collette and Jack Reynor
Young Irish writer-director Gerard Barrett follows up his 2013 debut Pilgrim Hill with the equally gritty Glassland, a powerful study of the personal battles being fought behind myriad nondescript doors. Addressing the same themes of isolation, despair and parental responsibility as in his first film, Barrett shifts his focus from the expanses of rural Ireland to the claustrophobic confines of working class Dublin.
It's here that twentysomething taxi driver John (Jack Reynor) lives and works; by night ferrying the city's (often unsavoury) inhabitants and by day waging a battle against his mother's alcoholism. When John finally forces Jean (Toni Collette) to accept help, it's a decision that comes at enormous financial and personal cost.
This brand of kitchen sink drama is liable to sink into melodrama, but Barrett manages to avoid such emotional quagmire by focusing not simply on the routine hardships of the disadvantaged, but by cracking open the devastating familial fractures at their heart. John is his mother's sole protector and the architect of her redemption, and this role reversal effectively shines a light on some dark truths of parenthood. In an extraordinary soliloquy, Jean explains her resentment towards the life-changing reality of having children – a shockingly honest diatribe attacking the traditional sanctity of motherhood. It's a bold flag to nail to the mast, but both Barrett and Collette handle the issue in such a way that it doesn't overwhelm the narrative.
That's important because this is ultimately John's story, and Reynor is excellent as the responsible young man of a type seen increasingly rarely in modern films, his loyalty unwavering even in the face of lost opportunity and a dismal future. It's a strong, subtle performance, fitting for a film that, despite a few heavy-handed lapses – an over-reliance on tight framing to indicate John's personal prison, an obvious use of 'Tainted Love' in a key scene – is a well-observed and moving slice of modern realism.
Selected release from Fri 17 Apr.