The Plot: Teenager Mully (Charlie Reid) is a dab hand at pub songs in his small Kerry town, but he’s also more self-aware than his wayward father (Lochlann O’Mearain) who takes charity money from him to pay debts. On the run from him, Mully races off in a stolen taxi and soon discovers that he has two unexpected passengers: middle-aged Joy (Olivia Colman) and her newborn child which she clearly doesn’t want. Joy is not the most agreeable of people, so they bicker and argue on a roadtrip to get to their destination. Along the way, they discover some home truths about themselves and where their very different lives are heading…
The Verdict: Moving from being an established director of documentary films to narrative-driven drama features is an intriguing switch of pace. It worked successfully for Kevin Macdonald (The Last King Of Scotland) and James Marsh (The Theory Of Everything). Now our own Emer Reynolds has made the transition and hasn’t dropped the ball either with Joyride. Having explored the farthest reaches of space and the rich creative life of the legendary Phil Lynott, Reynolds has focused her attention on a road movie through the wilds of Kerry with two wildly different characters and a baby (or rather three baby actors) in tow. Welcome to the mad world of Joy and Mully, two characters with seemingly nothing in common other than that they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time – and everything else about them seems wrong too. But like all good road movies down through the ages, it’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey and what the characters learn about each other along the way.
Plenty of road movies have trundled their way through cinemas, but not as many are so self-assured and clear of mind as this one. A significant part of Joyride’s success as a film that runs smoothly on these country roads is the script by second-time feature writer Ailbhe Keogan. A recent mother herself, she’s captured the amazing joy and nervy terror of motherhood in creating the character of Joy. A messy, erratic woman who didn’t think she could have a child at her age, she’s far more concerned about ditching the baby with her exasperated sister and heading off for a well-deserved sun holiday. Contrasted with her is Mully, a teenager who could very well head down the wrong path into a life of crime but has the street smarts to swerve trouble and care for his family when his father couldn’t care less. He’s a young man with a lot on his shoulders, but with maturity beyond his years. Somewhere in the intersection between these two characters, they find an unlikely middle ground and start to bond, laugh and cry about their life situations.
That’s to be expected of course in an odd couple story, but there’s a sophistication in Keogan’s writing and Reynolds’ direction which navigates through these bumpy roads with an air of impressive confidence. The characters are all rough edges, not straight lines – much closer to reality than the airbrushed version of life often depicted in movies. One wants to dislike Joy at first for her coarse selfishness and lack of attention towards her child, but the character refuses to be boxed into one neat definition. The undeniable contribution of the brilliant Olivia Colman in bringing the character to vivid life seals the deal in allowing her to change incrementally, but without cloying sentimentality. Equally impressive is newcomer Charlie Reid, whittled down from 1,500 hopefuls to land this plum role which allows for depth of range and a knowing sense of humour. In a sense, Mully becomes the adult in the film and teaches Joy not to question her reality but to accept it and all the messiness that comes with it.
It makes for intriguing viewing in not quite knowing how it’s going to work out, with Reynolds keeping the audience guessing in a narratively clever way. An eclectic choice of music (including Cab Calloway’s Minnie The Moocher) also enlivens the proceedings, giving the film crossover potential for an international audience. Even when dealing with fiction material, Reynolds has an eye for small character details set among the quiet, rolling landscapes of Kerry that echo the apparent loneliness of the two characters. She also keeps the film ticking along efficiently, not overstaying its welcome but still leaving one wanting more of these two characters who find each other in the most unlikely way. Joyride is joyous in many regards, finding its heart and soul along the way with the laughter and the tears. If you see one homegrown film this summer, this is it.