Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Joyride film review: Olivia Colman shines (of course) on a predictable but pleasant road trip

Colman's mastery elevates this coming-of-age dramedy from director Emer Reynolds and writer Ailbhe Keogan

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
L-R Olivia Colman and Charlie Reid in JOYRIDE, a Magnolia Pictures release
Olivia Colman and Charlie Reid in Joyride
Image: Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Through a combination of prolific work and genuinely awe-inspiring emotional dexterity, Olivia Colman has spent the past two decades steadily building herself into one of Those Actors, the ones you will watch no matter what they’re doing or where they might turn up. Her talent is such that her major projects frequently place her in contention for awards this time of year, but she’s also such a presence that any Colman performance is capable of giving something remarkable, no matter the size of the film or the size of the role. So while the Awards Season narrative this year has already framed Colman’s work in Sam Mendes’ Empire Of Light (in which she is predictably compelling) as the clear contender, it’s important to remember that there’s more than one film out at the end of 2022 featuring great work from one of our finest stars.

Joyride (select theaters December 23), the new coming-of-age dramedy/road movie from director Emer Reynolds and writer Ailbhe Keogan, may not have the benefit of a marquee director or a major studio rollout at its back, but the film’s tale of two frustrated people trying to find their place in a changing world still resonates because of the performances at its core. It might not break any plot molds, and it doesn’t quite come together as neatly as you’d hope by the end, but thanks to Colman’s shining presence, it’s a pleasant journey all the same.

Advertisement

The film’s story begins not with Colman, but with Charlie Reid’s Mully, a teenage boy trying to put on a brave face after the loss of his mother, despite his father’s (Lochlann Ó Mearáin) rather icy view of the whole affair. When his dad tries to pocket the money the regulars at the local pub are raising for charity in his mother’s name, Mully finally snaps, snatches the cash, and steals a taxi to escape his father. It’s only after he’s sped out of town that he realizes the cab already has two occupants: Joy (Colman) and her new infant daughter, who are on their way to catch a flight which Joy is determined to make no matter who’s driving the car. As Mully tries to decide what to do about his father and the money, and Joy tries to figure out what to do about the new life she’s now charged with caring for, the two forge an unlikely and tumultuous bond that forms the film’s narrative and emotional backbone.

That narrative backbone means that Colman and Reid spend vast swaths of the film as the only principal players in the story, either simply reacting to each other and to the baby in the backseat, or sharing adventures involving everything from a local chip stand to a strange, van-driving, amateur musician. For his part, newcomer Reid does an impressive job of keeping up with his much more famous, reliably powerful co-star, giving Mully the requisite chip on his shoulder while also leaning into the comedic buddy road movie angles here. There’s a darkness behind his eyes, a weariness, that’s cut each time with a little dash of hope, and it makes him a performer worth watching even when the film around him gets a little uneven.

Advertisement

That unevenness, which even Colman sometimes struggles to navigate with all her prodigious talent, comes down to a script that wants to ride that dramedy line all the way through to the finish, but sometimes swings so wildly to one side or the other of that tightrope that things get wobbly and even threaten at times to slip over the edge. From Mully’s oddly staged musical number to the abrupt shifts into darkness that don’t feel as lightened by adventure as the rest of the film, Joyride is often bumpy, but never so much that you’re ready to pull the car over and jump out.

Joyride - Official Trailer | Starring Olivia Colman

That’s largely due to Colman, who pours out her gifts for absurd comedy and deep, dark drama in equal measure in this role, breathing verisimilitude into a story that’s at times predictable and at other times quite treacly. Sometimes the best measure of an actor is not how they embody a notably great role, or even how they elevate a bad film, but how they fare when given middle-of-the-road material from which they must extract the maximum amount of emotional density and weight. Colman excels at this particularly tricky skill, and she brings the full force of that excellence to Joyride, making a solid movie that much more enjoyable.

Advertisement

In the hands of another star, Joyride might have remained a solid, reasonably pleasant entry into the world of road movies. In Colman’s hands, it becomes something more, even if it’s sometimes only slightly more: a good film anchored by one of the best actors in the game right now.