The 34th Galway Film Fleadh, returning to a full in-person event after two years of Covid disruption, opened on Tuesday night with the world premiere of Emer Reynolds’s road movie Joyride. This constituted something of a coup for the festival.
Olivia Colman, fresh off her Oscar nomination for The Lost Daughter, stars as a new mother propelled across Ireland with a wayward teenager played by newcomer Charlie Reid. The premiere of any film starring Colman, who won the Academy Award for Irish co-production The Favourite, is an event of significance in the film calendar.
“Well you know what we’re like in Galway,” Miriam Allen, chief executive of the Fleadh, explained. “We never take ‘no’ for an answer.”
Reynolds, director of the successful documentaries The Farthest and Songs for While I’m Away, makes her feature drama debut with a romp that veers from broad comedy to raw confessional. Joyride begins with young Mully, on the run from his dad and the law, leaping into a taxi and heading for the open road. It transpires that Joy (Joyride? Get it?) is in the back with her baby. Initially intent on making for Lanzarote, she too is on the lam. Over the course of a zany, pinballing adventure they gain a kind of emotional understanding.
Joyride, from a screenplay by Ailbhe Keogan, looks back to an era when every second Irish film began with the core characters discovering a suitcase full of money (or some similar MacGuffin). In this case it is a roll of cash, but the clatter of eccentric, barely-met characters feels familiar.
David Pearse turns up as a showband star with furry dice and a new musical direction. Tommy Tiernan plays the tin whistle and offers sage advice. The great Olwen Fouéré pops up now and then as a boozy mentor of obscure purpose.
The drama hangs on the tension between the two leads. Colman, loud in canary yellow, fights gallantly with a slightly undisciplined Irish accent to give us a woman on the verge of a potentially life-changing decision. Reid does good work with dialogue that doesn’t always feel as if written for an actor of his tender years.
Some tendrils of plot appear to gone missing in the ether, but the strong technical work helps it move along agreeably enough. The final late drift through a class of pagan festival is characteristic of a film that throws a whole galaxy of ideas at the wide screen.
Coming to us soon in a prequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and as Miss Havisham in the latest TV adaptation of Great Expectations, Colman sadly could not make it to the world premiere. But, after the pandemic compromises, guests are returning to the again-busy Fleadh. Vicky Krieps, the Luxembourgish actor who excelled in Phantom Thread and the recent Cannes hit Corsage, will be there to give a masterclass.
“Do you know what? She is a perfect Galway person,” Allen said. “Easy to deal with.”
Mike Newell, the director of Into the West and Four Weddings and a Funeral, will also be passing his wisdom onto attendees. Upcoming domestic premieres include those of Robert Higgins and Patrick McGiveny’s already buzzy sports drama Lakeland, Antonia Campbell Hughes’s dense, emotionally draining It Is in Us All and Gavin Fitzgerald’s documentary Million Dollar Pigeon.
Allen is also excited about Frankie Fenton’s Atomic Hope, a look at those arguing in favour of nuclear power. “I think that’s a very important documentary,” she says. “Climate change is high on everybody’s agenda. It’s very interesting to see inside the pro-nuclear industry.”
The 2020 Fleadh was entirely online. The 2021 event imaginatively developed a hybrid between the virtual and the actual. Allen acknowledges that they have learnt from those experiences. “We used to do a film at six, eight and 10 — certainly on the Friday and Saturday,” she says. “This year we decided to screen them at just six and nine. And that’s all about giving people space and time. And also that will allow a lengthier time for the Q and A with cast and crew.”
The Fleadh, still the most important platform for new Irish features, closes on Sunday night with a screening of the Ukrainian historical drama Carol of the Bells.