Dir: Gerard Barrett. With: Toni Collette, Jack Reynor, Will Poulter, Michael Smiley, Joe Mullins, Harry Nagle, Gary O’Nuallain. 15 cert, 93 min
The Irish drama Glassland establishes its kitchen-sink credentials from its opening frames. When twentysomething taxi driver John (Jack Reynor) sets about making breakfast after a long shift, he has first to retrieve a bowl from crockery stacked precariously under dripping taps. As with much else in Gerard Barrett’s film, it’s the tiniest of vignettes, but one that conveys multitudes – in this instance, about the ways in which this household does and doesn’t function. There are, it transpires, reasons nothing gets cleaned up around here: John is out working every hour to support a mother mired deep in alcoholism.
Though far from the chestbeating of 1997’s Nil by Mouth, Barrett is comparably alert to the rhythms and routines of his particular working-class milieu. By night, John ferries migrant girls to the cabs of lonely truckers; each morning, he bags up the empties and checks to ensure mum Jean (Toni Collette) hasn’t choked on her own vomit. Ways out would appear limited, although Barrett provides a leavening, even touching counterpoint in the form of John’s best (only?) friend Shane (Will Poulter), a gobby tearaway who has the option of taking his own mother for granted, and the opportunity to escape.
The umbilical cord connecting Jean to John stretches only so far, however. That John hasn’t room for other women is established during an especially lucid sequence that finds ma and son attempting a conventional night in. The dancing montage that follows looks suspiciously like the doing of a far glossier film than Glassland has been up to this point – until a sobering cut and stark lighting change reveals we may just have been inhabiting Jean’s wobbly headspace. The reality: a tired-looking middle-aged woman swaying uncertainly in a drab little flat. The song: “Tainted Love”, of course.
The performers commit entirely. Reynor extends his fine, thoughtful work in 2012’s What Richard Did as a lad operating under the heaviest of burdens. Colette’s jolting mid-film monologue makes one realise how often her formidable presence has been squandered recently – and a single smile of hers late on, as these characters move out of the fragile state suggested by its title, is all the illumination Barrett requires. It’s a film of few frills or flourishes, which never tries to dress up its subject or soften its blows. Yet in its rage and its pain, in the wire-brush scrub it gives to the movies’ woozily romantic notions of alcoholism, Glassland feels wholly honest and true.
Glassland opens in selected cinemas from today.