Now streaming on:
True to its title, Emer Reynolds' "Joyride" holds both the thrills of getting away with something and the emotional crash that follows a burst of adrenaline—a mood killjoy, if you will. Fortunately, it's in this sweet-hearted movie's favor that the highs are stronger and more enjoyable than the lows. It may not come together as smoothly as the best feel-good movies of its kind, but there's an unwieldy charm to "Joyride" that makes the trip memorable.
At a cancer memorial fundraiser for his mom, 13-year-old Mully (Charlie Reid) catches his dad James (Lochlann O'Mearáin) stealing donations. It's for the family, he insists, but Mully isn't convinced. He snatches the wad of bills and takes off, jumping into a cab and driving away with it. Until that is, there's a snore from the backseat and then a baby's cry. He unintentionally picked up Joy (Olivia Colman), an uptight solicitor on her way to give her new baby away to her sister. Both on the run from painful memories, hurtful parental figures, and at some point, local authorities, Mully and Joy make unlikely travel companions as they sort themselves out.
Reynolds, an experienced editor-turned-director, and writer Ailbhe Keogan thread a thin line between the pair's heartbreaking confessions and the various bumps on the road. Some detours are funny, some are somber, and a few are a bit off-kilter, like a street parade where people in intimidating burlap costumes dance around Mully at a delayed, dreamy speed. He's not dreaming, nor under the influence; it's just a surreal moment, complete with an oversized babydoll head being carried in the street. It's a bit on-the-nose overall, but not as much as a contrived moment on a plane when Joy is trying to leave, and the passengers rally around her like in a classic romantic comedy. Unfortunately, some of these stranger moments between heartfelt scenes throw off the tone and feel like ideas imported from another movie.
However, other visual qualities of Reynolds' "Joyride" are more holistic. Her collaboration with cinematographer James Mather creates a vivid sense of the Irish countryside and seaside. The film keeps gorgeous details of a foggy day as the characters walk among endless green hills and stalks of barley bouncing in the wind. As they wait to take the ferry, the blueness of the water seems to leap off the screen. The sun enters a window with a lovely glow in a boarding house's kitchen. Even if an emotional scene may be tough to watch, their images are usually eye-catching.
The heart and soul of "Joyride" are the two mismatched travelers brought to life by Reid and Colman's performances. Although plenty world-weary after landing with his self-absorbed father, Mully still has childlike moments of rebellion and innocence. In one tender moment at a gas station, he plays with a musical, dancing toy, and he mimics its moves. Joy watches from afar while holding her baby and smiles as if both taking in the silly moment and perhaps thinking of her own baby's future playtime. In a sense, she is haunted by her mother's lifelong antipathy and is afraid she will similarly fail this child she doesn't want. Colman's body language here is not too dissimilar to Charlie Chaplin's the Tramp in "The Kid," acting as if almost physically allergic to holding a baby, let alone keeping it. Absent a maternal figure like Mully's, Joy sometimes relies on Mully for caretaking advice since he has experience watching over younger relatives. They are both grieving their lost mothers and learning to step up for the sake of others.
The shared bond between Mully and Joy keeps "Joyride" together, with their tug-of-war over the steering wheel building trust between the two. They are both determined to move forward but must deal with their not-too-distant past, and they learn they can rely on each other when other parental figures have failed them. "Joyride" may be tame in some respects, but it's a gentle movie about forgiveness, love, and learning to cope with unplanned disruptions in someone's life.
Now playing in theaters and available on VOD.