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Joyride review – insufferable and farcically dim-witted road movie

Olivia Colman follows up The Lost Daughter with an utterly awful dramedy that constantly trips into treacly self-parody

For all that it has launched countless exceptional films as an iconic festival, the phrase “Sundance-y,” in certain contexts, carries with it some pejorative connotations. For every Minari or Whiplash or Call Me By Your Name, Sundance also provides an irritatingly twee and quirky dramedy to match, so insistent on proving how charming it is that it instead becomes insufferable. Though it didn’t premiere there, Emer Reynolds’s Joyride falls exactly into this unfortunate mini-genre, a farcically far-fetched and irritating road movie that more often than not feels like a cruel parody of all the worst “indie” movies you’ve ever seen.

In Joyride, Olivia Colman plays a woman named Joy (a bad sign from the very off), an Irish forty-something who has unexpectedly had a baby but is desperate to hand the newborn off to a friend, unwilling to put her life on hold for a child she really doesn’t want. On paper it’s a potent premise, perhaps even feeling like a companion piece to Colman’s own superb anti-motherhood feature The Lost Daughter, but the story that Reynolds and writer Ailbhe Keogan weave it into robs it of any power or depth.

In the first of many entirely unbelievable plot developments, the cab that Joy has fallen asleep in with her baby is stolen by teenage tearaway Mully (newcomer Charlie Reid), who is on the run after stealing a stack of money from his shifty, debt-ridden gambler of a dad. After Mully finally realises what he’s done (Joy sleeps through the entire carjacking), he pulls into a scrapyard to dump the car, before Joy demands that he instead help drive her to her destination in a new stolen car, given his knack for keeping the baby quiet.

Nothing at all in this opening twenty minutes rings true, which is a problem that Joyride never overcomes as it hits all the expected beats of a rocky bonding process between Joy and Mully on their various zany escapades across the picturesque Irish coast. No one ever makes a decision that makes actual human sense, so you never care what happens to them – they’re just cartoon ciphers employed to deliver some hackneyed life lessons. Even Colman, who has been on such a career hot streak, can’t breathe any real life into the story, and she’s eventually saddled with what may well be the single worst scene of any film this year.

The young Reid makes an impressive enough debut, though, his inherent scrappiness shining through the cliched reveals that this boy racer in fact has a heart of gold. It’s just a shame that he’s surrounded by such rubbish and, though there are some enjoyably colourful visuals and a handful of clever grace notes regarding Mully’s flawed but not entirely awful dad, Joyride can never resist the urge to trip itself into treacly puddle after treacly puddle. After The Lost Daughter did such sterling work in examining what makes a “bad mother,” it’s saddening to see Olivia Colman follow it up with something so trite on a similar topic, one that doesn’t even have the courage of its own convictions.

Joyride is released in UK cinemas on 29 July.

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