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‘Joyride’ Review: Olivia Colman Goes Home in Uplifting Irish Road Trip Comedy

The Oscar winner plays an alcoholic who is accidentally kidnapped by a 12-year-old boy in this fluffy but sweet odd couple farce.

Joyride Olivia Colman


Magnolia Pictures

We all made interesting choices during the pandemic. Some people got dogs, some left exciting cities for quieter pastures, and some took big career swings. Oscar winner Olivia Colman, it seems, swung wildly out of her usual prestige material to take a little jaunt to Ireland. All it took to get her there was a wholesome road trip comedy in which her primary scene partner is a 12-year-old boy.

Though the inimitable Colman can’t help but muscle an admirable performance out of the overly sentimental material, her immense talent dwarfs the melodramatic surroundings. Once we arrive at a scene where the kindhearted hooligan teaches her how to breastfeed in a seaside shack, it’s clear we’re not in Yorgos Lanthimos territory anymore.

While not entirely without its charms, “Joyride” quite literally milks both comedy and melodrama from its tidy premise like a new mother leaking down her silk blouse — an indignity Colman carries off with sharp vulnerability. The title gets a double meaning from her character’s name, Joy, though her mouthy young sidekick knows her as “vodka tonic.”

He goes by the charmingly Irish name of Mully (Charlie Reid), a rowdy bruiser who recently lost his mother. A pre-teen crooner who delights the local pub-goers with his smooth rendition of “Minnie The Moocher,” Mully is mostly neglected by his unreliable schemer of a father, James (Lochlann Ó Mearáin). After a fundraiser for a charity in his mother’s honor, Mully discovers James pocketing the wad for himself. Well-intentioned ruffian that he is, he snags the cash and hops into a running taxi, jetting off without realizing there’s a baby and a floppy Joy passed out in the backseat.

All that lolling around eventually wakes Joy up, where she discovers her young abductor and quickly takes stock of her predicament. Being a savvy solicitor, she convinces Mully she won’t press charges if he gets her to her final destination, the purpose of which she is both cagey and adamant about. “No going back, only forward” is all the mantra she needs to drive into the unknown with a minor in tow.


Magnolia Pictures

Though their familial barbing has a sharp Irish edge to it, soon enough, Joy and Mully develop a chummy rapport, and their ensuing connection gives the film its sappy heart. It’s clear they’ve collided to teach the other a lesson each didn’t know they needed. Joy isn’t exactly brimming with maternal warmth, as evidenced by the steely way she ignores her crying baby. Mully slowly melts her defenses with his gentle care for the babe, which he says he learned from helping out with his niece. As Mully gradually softens Joy’s resolve, he inadvertently draws out the motherly love he so desperately misses.

Though it will never not be ridiculous to see an adolescent boy teaching a grown woman how to breastfeed, the role reversal is a clever enough conceit to support this poignant comedic drama. Colman is incapable of delivering anything disingenuous, and she brings much more gravitas to the role than the project calls for. Reid is equally charismatic in Mully’s sweet and sour moments, delivering jabs about Joy’s “leaky tits” with as much bravado as he brings to cradling the crying infant.

The production gets a boost of support from the rolling back roads of County Kerry, on Ireland’s Southeast coast, where “Joyride” was filmed. The glowing green hills and blustery maritime setting make for a picturesque backdrop to this poignant tale, even if the visual language isn’t exactly cinematic.

“Joyride” marks the narrative debut of Irish filmmaker Emer Reynolds, a former film editor who found success in directing documentaries, most notably 2017’s NASA documentary “The Farthest.”  There’s not much of a stylistic point of view in “Joyride,” though Reynolds deserves credit for the finely tuned performances and the film is excellently cast. The script, from “Bad Sisters” writer Ailbhe Keogan, is full of wry jabs that Colman and Reid bat back and forth entertainingly. The drama feels fairly slight in scope, except for a few moments where it reaches too far for depth, but it’s well-executed enough for its ambitions.

It’s hard to say exactly who the prime audience is for “Joyride,” though Mully is sweet enough not to really offend any of the empty nesters who might be most swayed by its lessons. The most significant risk in the story is Joy’s ambivalence about motherhood, though the film doesn’t exactly hide its opinion on the matter. In Ireland, it seems, even the coldest of hearts can be warmed by a nice cuppa and a charming young lad.

Grade: B-

“Joyride” is available in theaters and VOD on December 23.

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