Outside of genre filmmaking, horror especially, filmmakers have really struggled to make films about motherhood and about women who aren’t interested in being mothers. Films like The Babadook and We Need To Talk About Kevin have managed to convincingly portray the terrors of parenthood, but have exclusively used genre tropes to do so, hiding the message behind thrills and shocks.
Emer Reynold’s hilarious and touching Joyride tries to offer a more realistic insight into the mindset of a woman on the edge, all because of her little bundle of joy. Olivia Colman plays Joy (“I know, false advertising” she depressingly notes), who is asleep in a taxi when Mully (Charlie Reid) steals it and drives off, not noticing a woman and a baby in the backseat.
What follows is a sweet little adventure through Ireland as Joy is desperate to give up her baby and head for a sunny vacation. She’s terrified of her baby, unable to breastfeed or connect with her. Mully on the other hand is a natural, thanks to his younger siblings he’s used to taking care of.
Mully is dealing with the loss of his mother to cancer and the whole reason he stole Joy’s taxi is that he grabbed the money people in the village had donated to a cancer charity, fearing his dad would use it to pay off his debts.
The relationship between Joy and Mully is the film’s carrying force. Reid and Colman create an exciting dynamic, one that never feels forced but organic and natural. Both actors are constantly challenging each other, bouncing off each other. They balance equal amounts of hostility and tenderness between them masterfully, especially Colman brings a lot of nuance to Joy who isn’t an easy character to like.
At all times, Joyride is delightfully honest and frank about Joy’s struggles with motherhood as well as Mully’s disappointment in the adults in his life. Reynolds never sugarcoats things nor does she talk down to her audience. While Joyride is constantly entertaining and very funny, there are a lot of complex emotions on show here and Colman especially portrays Joy’s grief and desperation convincingly and with nuance. The film’s best scene involves Mully guiding Joy with breastfeeding, which leads to an emotionally disarming moment between the two.
Reynold’s directs Joyride steadily and keeps things moving constantly. The film could have used a few more moments to breathe and for the drama to grow and develop more organically, instead of Reynolds shoehorning in a lot of dialogue to explain characters’ feelings.
Joyride is very modern and timely with its insistence that it’s okay for women to not want to have and raise children. Joy doesn’t need a reason, she’s allowed to just not want to subject herself and her daughter to potentially a lifetime of misery. It’s such a shame when the film eventually backs down on this idea to offer a happy ending of sorts to the audience.
It’s all very sweet and will certainly bring tears to someone’s eyes, but it’s also so disappointing. The film has so much to say if you’re willing to forgive its properly ridiculous premise of a teenager driving a middle-aged woman to give away her baby, but it fluffs it in the end. Dramatically, Joyride feels incomplete and frustrating with no satisfying conclusion.
Joyride is in UK cinemas July 29.