From What To Expect When You’re Expecting to Lady Bird and Tully, there are many films that explore motherhood and its complexities. Tully, in particular, tackles the subject of postpartum depression in a raw and intimate way. There aren’t many movies like it, proving that the stigma around postpartum is alive and well. Emer Reynolds’s Joyride, with a screenplay by Ailbhe Keogan, comes so close to achieving and even surpassing the heights of the Charlize Theron vehicle. Postpartum is one thing, but there’s no stigma as unshakeable as the kind toward mothers who don’t want their children. A mother’s journey to making that decision is something rarely seen, if ever, on film.
We get close to it, though. In this year’s Decision to Leave, a mother leaves her baby at a church with the promise of returning. In The Lost Daughter, a mother (played by Olivia Colman) leaves her children for several years to pursue her career goals. Colman plays another mother in Joyride, but this time, she makes the decision to give her newborn daughter to a friend. You can imagine the internal conflict that arises and the complexities surrounding that choice, but Joyride’s script lacks the depth needed to fully explore such an important discussion and seems almost too scared to be anything but predictable.
An upbeat score by Ray Harman and the laughter and playfulness of a mother and son at the beach give the impression that this will indeed be a joyful ride. But the film’s opening frames are just a memory playing out on a screen at a memorial. Mully (Charlie Reid)’s mom has just passed, but her celebration of life is full of drink and song. The newcomer, Reid, gets to show off his voice with a rendition of “Minnie the Moocher.” The moocher the song references should really be Mully’s father, James (Lochlann O’Mearáin) who the boy spots stealing charity money at the memorial. He isn’t afraid to take the money back from his dad, no matter what kind of manipulative tactics he tries. After a brief chase with the cash in hand, Mully steals a cab to get as far away from this dad as possible. However, there’s a surprise waiting for him in the backseat: A passed-out mother and her newborn daughter.
Stuck with a crying baby and an irritable woman he names “Vodka Tonic” wasn’t in Mully’s cards, and being stuck with another kid wasn’t in Joy (Colman)’s either. (She acknowledges that her name is “false advertising.”) But as a lawyer, she knows how to make a deal. Mully either has to stay with Joy and look after her baby or she’ll report him for kidnapping.
The deal is great for her because Mully has been acting as the father to his own niece. But on this unconventional road trip along the lush, green Irish countryside, Joy reveals that she’s going to give her baby away. She believes her child would be better off with her friend who really wants kids. As the film progresses, the question of if she’ll really go through with it hangs in the back of the audience’s mind. It’s her life-changing decision to make, and by the end, this journey leads to Mully having to make one of his own.
Joy and Mully are one of the year’s most unlikely yet fun pairings. Joking one minute and annoyed with each other the next, it’s an interesting dynamic to see evolve over the course of the film. The transformation of this friendship is both heartwarming in the way they pick up each other’s broken pieces, and entertaining as they turn into a couple of runaway criminals. Mully makes Joy see motherhood differently, while Joy gives Mully the strength to take life into his own hands.
Olivia Colman has kept the month stacked with the new Puss in Boots, Empire of Light, that Scrooge movie on Netflix no one watched, and now Joyride. She’s one of the best and most prolific out there. Unfortunately, this film’s script doesn’t live up to her talents. Colman delivers both disinterest and coldness as she interacts with her character’s baby. Her body language shows nothing but discomfort for most of the film; however, her eyes tell a different story. Colman is able to convey the strongest love through her eyes even when her face is emotionless. Joy brushes off her feelings, though, because she thinks the baby doesn’t want her. We aren’t given an explanation as to why she feels this way. Postpartum would seem like the obvious, of course, but it’s not solidified if she’s suffering from that. In fact, she jokes that she could claim that in a plea if she and Mully ever got arrested. We do learn, however, that her character is carrying a lot of pain that stems from childhood. Her experience with her own mother gives us an idea of her fear of motherhood, but it’s just a flicker of backstory that should have been given much more thought, despite being used to tie the ending together in a powerful way.
Reid is the perfect onscreen partner. He’s playing a child who seems way older than his age which makes this dynamic work. However, apart from the recent death of his mother, his deadbeat dad, and his babysitting skills, we don’t learn much about him. The relationship between Mully and Joy proves to be quite touching. In one scene, he helps her breastfeed for the first time. It’s pretty hard to believe a kid would be willing to do that, but it’s an emotional and beautiful turning point in Joy’s experience as a mother.
Joyride is a charming road movie, sure, but the fact that Joy isn’t ready to love her own child, but opens her heart to another, is so complex and interesting; the script doesn’t have the strength to really grapple with that. The role of women has certainly shifted, but discourse on motherhood hasn’t made the same strides as progress in other areas. Women are still expected to fill the role of nurturer and the film seems too scared to move away from that view. However, Joyride does make the understanding that some parents shouldn’t be parents, like Mully’s dad, and that even having the idea of giving them up for a better life is actually incredibly brave and selfless. Women shouldn’t be shamed for knowing in their hearts what’s best.