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Sundance: "Glassland", a Compassionate But Bleak Mother/Son Drama

Breaking News: Someone finally gave Toni Collette something to act onscreen again. She has lines and emotions and everything. (Tammy and Hitchcock -- never forget!). But I'm jumping too far ahead since Glassland takes some time to come around to her story. When we finally get to it she all but dares you to listen with hostile self-pity in an amazing and amazingly lengthy monologue. [More...]

But first Glassland follows a young man named John (Jack Reynor) who tells us in voice over that "It's been lonely. I've worked a lot of hours. I can't do this anymore" We watch him asleep and then groggily toss and turning, tapping his fingers impatiently and then tip toeing through his own house as if he doesn't want to intrude or worries what he might awaken. Having attended several festivals I instantly worried that the following 88 minutes after the sleepy opening would be just as lethargic. But though Glassland never pretends it isn't anything other than a bleak Irish indie about dead-end monotonous lives, it finds non-drowsy ways of being a noteworthy member of that totally bummer genre. 

The direction in particular is fine with the camera and framing carefully attuned to the gestural expression of its actors, their body language, the ways they look at each other... or don't. In one terrific sequence, when John drinks with his mother, director Gerard Barrett and his editor employ a brutally effective cut to differentiate between a heightened "special" family moment and the hard reality. No one is particularly articulate for a good long while in the movie but you begin to read ever more into the limited exchanges. John is constantly worried about his alcoholic mother; when we first meet her she's passed out in her own vomit... so things are just grand.

Though his home life is filled with random dramatic explosions of feelings, and his unruly best friend Shane (Will Poulter, infinitely more impressive than he was in the Maze Runner) gives the film some needed levity, John's life is otherwise thoroughly monotonous and that's well conveyed in tiny shard like scenes often using drowned out sounds for its numbing effect (he drives a cab, for example, but you never hear any vocal exchanges - not even when fares enter the cab). He's at the end of his rope with his mother, who he wants to rescue but how? 

John films his mother with his phone in one super explosive scene wherein she cries out for the alcohol he's removed from the house."Where is it. Why can't you mind your own business"  Collette is fearless totally letting the woman's animalistic need rise to the surface and then flaunt itself for maximum self-degradation or just possibly the desire to spread her hurt around. Much to the screenplay's credit, though it's subtle and I didn't realize it at first, the film pairs this too-raw explosion of human suffering with the son's own breakdown later in the film. "You're breaking my heart every single day."

I can't imagine ever wanting to see the movie again: its goals are modest, it's a bleak ride, and one late film detour was too ambiguously eery and then ambiguously hopeful to not feel grafted on. But those two scenes are just gut-wrenching. Everywhere else Jack Reynor (future star) ably carries the movie until Collette intermittently pops up to seize the camera and devour her desperate son's entire life force. One ache from Glassland will stay with me: This is what Toni Collette is capable of and far too few filmmakers are interested in letting her show it. Hollywood, you're breaking my heart every single day. 


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Reader Comments (9)

Exciting news.

January 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

Great read. Thanks for posting this.

January 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

So glad to read this. Toni is an amazing, underrated actress.

January 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

I agree. Tomi Collette is totally amazing and vastly underrated.

January 24, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

OH MY GOD I have to have this right now. I will go watch Japanese Story until i can.

January 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJA

It probably says a lot about me that your description of the film as "bleak" only makes me want to see it more, but I'm glad Ms. Collette has found material worthy of her talents, nonetheless. It's crazy how undervalued/underutilized she is!

January 24, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

Toni Collette is so talented and so underused. Would have loved to have seen her version of Chicago. Or Bridget Jones even. Damn Renee...

January 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRichie

Could this be a second Supporting nomination for Toni? Sounds great. Wish she's been nominated for Little Miss Sunshine (in supporting), perhaps she might have been without Cate the great's catergory fraud

January 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterChrisD

Sigh. She is so fabulous (she at least turned a nothing role in ENOUGH SAID into a glorious showcase for why she should use her natural accent more often in American films).

January 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

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