Image: Yan Bourke
Loretta Goff finds a lot to like in Conor O’Toole’s energetic comedy.
Mags (Roxanna Nic Liam) is a feisty, opinionated bicycle delivery driver just trying to get by contemporary Dublin amidst increasing rents and unscrupulous landlords. Her bicycle is her lifeline. Not only does she use it everyday for work, it was passed down to her by her now deceased mom, and it is one thing she’s always been able to rely on. So, when it gets stolen during a delivery, and the Gardaí offer little help, Mags goes on a mission to get it back herself, along with a little help from her housemate Ailbhe (Meadhbh Haicéid) and, ironically, a low-level bicycle thief (Owen Colgan).
Written and directed by Conor O’Toole, Bicycle Thieves: Pumped Up is full of humour and energy. From confronting bad drivers to customers who order sweetcorn on their pizza, Mags is not one to back down or tread lightly with her opinions, and the film follows her lead. From portraying guards more concerned about the theft of one of their office pens than that of a bicycle (which they get Mags to draw using crayons) and landlords driving expensive SUVs and wearing fur coats doing anything they can to raise rents, to a Housing Minister who is unaware that there is a housing crisis, O’Toole pulls no punches with his timely humour. Much of the Irish audience will identify with Mags’ plight, and be right there with her when she exclaims, upon viewing the bathroom in a rental property, “no black mould, find the landlord, close the deal!”
The film also seamlessly delves into magical realism well-suited to Mags’ character. In an attempt to control her outspoken rage while going undercover in order to find proof on her bicycle’s thief, Mags speaks to a claymation whale inside her mind that tries to calm her down. Equally, on the streets of Dublin she comes across a group of bicycle couriers (the ‘elites’ of the bicycle delivery world) who won’t offer her a job among them until she is able to “merge with the astral plane” while cycling, taking her cycling speed to a whole new level. For these couriers, it isn’t just a job, “it’s a calling”. In keeping with the magical realist tone, Mags’ struggle throughout the film (and her character’s nice development arc) is rewarded with an unrealistically happy ending in which everything in her life falls perfectly into place to an impossible degree, though viewers won’t begrudge her this.
While some of the acting is a bit stilted in parts, Nic Liam enthusiastically embraces her role, and the film’s fast pace and relatable humour make it a very enjoyable watch overall. O’Toole’s first feature film hits the mark with its energy, creativity, and punchiness.
Bicycle Thieves: Pumped Up screened on 22nd July at Galway Film Fleadh 2021.