There’s great potential in the kickoff of this first fiction feature from one of our great cinematic polymaths. A teenager (Charlie Reid), fleeing his dodgy father, jumps into the front of a cab and speeds to freedom. He then realizes that there is a woman (Olivia Colman, no less) and a baby in the back seat. Their contrasting issues intertwine and correct as the journey continues.
Unfortunately, Emer Reynolds’ film never finds a cohesive tone or satisfying narrative rhythm thereafter. Plenty of good actors show up to deliver the kind of comedic cameos we remember from Irish comedies about missing money bags over the millennia. David Pearse enjoys a brief scene as an eccentric showband singer with a pickup truck and furry dice. The indomitable Olwen Fouéré appears and reappears as an aimless drunken eccentric. Pinball takes our heroes from high comedy to dark confession to puzzling personal emergency. Nothing sums up weirdness better – or more sadly – than a lingering robin, first introduced as an all-too-literal accompaniment to a proper bubblegum pop hit.
Yet we have good performers at the helm. We hardly need to recommend Olivia Colman any further and, despite an Irish accent that swings back and forth across these islands in individual clauses, she pretty much struggles to get the curiously drawn Joy into submission. (Yes, her name is Joy. Joyride? Get it?) Young Charlie Reid is also to be commended for his accommodating dialogue that doesn’t always sound like it was written for a character from his younger years. The actor is a charmer and he clicks satisfyingly with his Oscar-winning mate.
There is nothing to actively dislike here. Reynolds, a hugely experienced editor who won an Emmy for directing the stunning documentary The Farthest, keeps the energy high and lets her handsome cast flex every muscle. But Joyride looks like old-school stuff. For all its looming menace and adult themes, the Irish road movie it most resembles is the St. Patrick’s Day classic Flight of the Doves. Like this family entertainment, it slams the characters from one domestic party class to the next without pausing to think. The children of Flight of the Doves meet Dana in a travel trailer. Joyride’s mismatched couple reunite at a pagan party class. The world is no worse for the two existing films.