2023, R, 96 min. Directed by Adele Lim. Starring Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu, Sabrina Wu, Ronny Chieng, David Denman, Annie Mumolo.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 7, 2023
Adele Lim’s Joy Ride is a bawdy comedy in the vein of Girls Trip and The Hangover films. What sets it apart from these movies is its creative team and cast of Asian American women. That Asian American women can be just as raunchy and rude as their counterparts of other races, sexes, and ethnicities should come as no surprise in this era of back-to-back Oscar wins for Parasite and Everything Everywhere All at Once and the success of such earthy comics as Margaret Cho and Awkwafina, yet it does. Joy Ride slides comfortably into the tradition of hard-R road-trip movies while also demonstrating that American culture still has many areas to open up in terms of representation.
Joy Ride begins with one of the best meet cutes seen in a while. While filling in the backstory of two best friends, Audrey (Park) and Lolo (Cola), the film shows how they first meet as preschoolers on the playground and ends with a sucker punch to the little boy who racially insults them. It sets the tone for the rest of the film: Do not mess with this duo who’ll have each other’s backs for life. A montage of their public school years follows and then picks up in their adult lives where Audrey has become a lawyer working her way up the corporate ladder and Lolo is a broke artist living on Audrey’s property and making “sex positive” artworks that do not sell.
When Audrey, who was adopted from China by white parents, is sent by her boss to seal a deal in Beijing, she brings Lolo along for the trip. Audrey plans to meet up with her college roommate Kat (Oscar nominee Hsu), who has become a successful actress and will serve as their translator. Lolo brings along her oddball cousin Deadeye (Wu) and also decides that the trip provides the perfect opportunity for Audrey to search for her birth mother. What follows is a piecemeal series of episodes that include, among other things, a by-now practically requisite cocaine blowout escapade, smutty sexual encounters with the Chinese basketball team, and a K-pop send-up of Cardi B’s “WAP” that closes with an unforgettable tattoo reveal.
Despite the narrative through line being somewhat disjointed, the individual sequences shine like comedic jewels that further cement the characters’ relationships. Lim makes her directing debut with Joy Ride, after a successful career as a writer on Crazy Rich Asians and Raya and the Last Dragon. She co-wrote Joy Ride with Teresa Hsiao and Cherry Chevapravatdumrong. For good measure, raunch maestro Seth Rogen’s Point Grey Pictures served as Joy Ride’s producer, ensuring that the film will have no problems remaining “superbad.”