BASICALLY…: A single mother (Colman) unites with a young boy (Reid) on a mission to give away her baby…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Even with three Oscar nominations (and one win), four BAFTAs, an Emmy, and several other accolades to her name – seriously, the amount she’s won at this point is even enough for its own Wikipedia page – Olivia Colman still doesn’t seem to have taken the high road with her acting roles. Instead of reserving herself for only the most prestigious of projects, the ever-pleasing national treasure apparently has enough humility left in her to take on somewhat lighter fare, where she can still bring her A-game while also having a bit more fun than your average awards contender.
This is very much the case with Joyride, the narrative debut for documentary filmmaker Emer Reynolds, wherein Colman elevates the light-hearted, if often bumpy, material with her committed presence and an unexpected rapport with her younger co-lead, Charlie Reid.
Reid, himself making his screen debut here, plays Mully, a young lad who’s recently lost his mother, and whose deadbeat gambler father (Lochlann O’Mearáin) is intent on using some stolen charity money to pay off debts to some local gangsters. Disturbed by his father’s intentions, Mully takes off with the cash and steals a taxi to drive away – only to find not just a delirious woman named Joy (Colman), but also her newborn daughter in the back seat. Joy, as it turns out, was on her way to dump the infant girl – which she is clearly not keen on raising – with trusted relatives, and then board a plane to Lanzarote where she’ll presumably embrace her boozy single life. These two troubled souls are inevitably forced onto a road trip together, where – you guessed it – they don’t get along at first, but eventually bond over certain things, and eventually learn to grow as people while they’re being chased by malevolent forces, in this case Mully’s manipulative father.
Joyride takes a lot of cues from the standard guidebook on road trip movies, from car breakdowns aplenty to the odd police chase every now and then, but while it is often painfully familiar territory, the trip itself is made tolerable because you do get to know and like these wildly mismatched travel buddies. As though it even needed to be said, Colman does some great work here, tapping into her past comedy experience on stuff like Peep Show and Fleabag to create an anti-heroic character that is amusingly way past the point of caring, but then later you get to see a more sentimental and even tragic side to this person which the actress flawlessly conveys to a point where you do, to a point, understand where she’s coming from. She is easily matched by Charlie Reid who, especially for a young actor with no apparent prior screen credits, impressively commands sympathy and cheekiness about as competently as a more seasoned juvenile thespian. Reid shows great promise as an actor with a strong screen presence, and also not that bad a singing voice (his first scene in the movie is singing a rendition of “Minnie the Moocher” to a crowd), which is noticeable even in the presence of an actual screen legend like Olivia Colman. Both actors’ chemistry is solid, certainly hitting the expected spots of mismatched buddy comedies with plenty of petty arguments and blue language, but when the script calls for pure sentimentality, like scenes wherein the younger Mully shows reluctant mum Joy how to breastfeed, they comfortably switch gears while still retaining their genuine on-screen likeability.
While it’s boosted by its two formidable leads, Joyride does fall victim to its own light-heartedness. Because it is simply doing a lot of the usual road trip and buddy movie conventions, the plot does become pretty easy to predict, and a lot of the supporting characters – particularly this boo-hiss father character – primarily stick to their singular dimensions, adding precious little to the narrative that these two much stronger leads aren’t already contributing. What’s more, the sudden shift from standard road trip tropes to some genuinely upsetting imagery and hints toward mental health problems creates an uneven tone that threatens to run the whole thing off the road. Reynolds – again, primarily a documentary filmmaker – tends to struggle with her narrative film’s bumpy tonal shifts, never quite settling on being either a full-out road trip/buddy comedy or a deeper, even psychologically questionable study of reluctant motherhood. It appears that the need to be as accessible and crowd-pleasing as possible has gotten in the way of tackling any darker issues that this movie is trying to cover, and because of its restrained focus it doesn’t amount to much other than just being a passable comedy-drama that most likely won’t have much longevity in the public consciousness.
That is, except to say that this is yet another great Olivia Colman performance, and also a promising debut for young Charlie Reid as well. Alas, if only the script was sturdy enough to support these two shining talents all the way through.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Joyride is a passable road trip/buddy comedy that’s boosted by an exceptional turn by Olivia Colman, who’s easily matched by outstanding young actor Charlie Reid, but an overly familiar script with a bumpy tone doesn’t make the journey as smooth as the actors are making it look.