In between signing up for Wonka and Great Expectations, international treasure Olivia Colman opted to appear in Emer Reynolds’ low-budget Irish road-movie. If those projects are limousines, Joyride is more of a clapped-out banger. Still, at the risk of overextending that metaphor, Colman and Reynolds’ willingness to go off-road makes the journey worthwhile.
“Seriously, I can convince anyone of anything.” So says Joy, a scathing solicitor and troubled new mother, before demonstrating her point. Heading for Kerry airport in a stolen car, with 13 year old runaway, Mully (Charlie Reid; fantastic), Joy wins over a policeman by combining a plausible narrative with a luminously goofy smile and eyes that say “I’ve been hurt before, so please be gentle”. Colman has forged an Oscar-winning career with those exact same weapons. She has many others at her disposal but, in general, her ability to morph into a little girl lost is what slays us and she’s on top form here.
Writer Ailbhe Keogan (a mentee of Alex Garland’s) throws in some decent gags, but mostly it’s the oddness of the scenario – basically, the strange chemistry between Mully and Joy - that grips. Mully, whose beloved mother is dead and whose father, James, is shifty and unreliable, is repeatedly required to look at Joy’s engorged breasts as she struggles with feeding.
Meanwhile, as well as caustically joking that Mully is the baby’s father, Joy frequently treats him like a potential life partner. In the deftly disturbing indie drama, The Kindergarten Teacher, Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a seemingly competent professional whose boundary issues take her into a dark place. Similarly, lonely Joy, still bleeding from the slightly premature birth, has a wild need in her voice that, for significant chunks of the movie, makes anything seem possible.
Talking of Gyllenhaal, she and Colman proudly probed maternal ambivalence in The Lost Daughter. Once again, Colman is asking us to view a should-I-stay-or-should-I-go working mother with sympathy.
You can see what drew her to Reynolds. The latter won an Emmy for her sublime documentary The Farthest, in which tearful NASA scientists discuss interstellar spacecrafts, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, like parents marvelling at their brilliant children. The human need to create families (irrespective of blood ties) clearly fascinates the Joyride team, who, by the by, sneak in some edgily surreal images, most notably a pagan festival’s disembodied infant mascot.
If only the plot wasn’t farcically contrived. If only Colman’s Irish accent was as good as her acting. If only she wasn’t required to sing. Mid-way through the film, Joy and Mully larkily warble the theme tune to Home and Away. At which point, Colman’s brogue, which till then has been flickering like a dodgy light bulb, blows a fuse. Ah well. No pain no gain.
94mins, cert 15