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Joy Ride Review: Adele Lim’s Raunchy Asian American Comedy Is Both Hilarious and Poignant

Following its buzzy premiere at SXSW in March, the bawdy comedy Joy Ride cruises into theaters this weekend, and it follows four Asian-American friends on an unlikely-but-hilarious adventure as they travel through China in search of one girl’s birth mother.

Adele Lim, who previously penned Crazy Rich Asians, the 2018 rom-com that grossed over $283 million worldwide, makes a solid feature directorial debut here, and she also shares story credit with screenwriters Cherry Chevapravatdumrong (Family Guy) and Teresa Hsiao (Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens), whose hilarious script is raunchy yet, and certainly more nuanced than one would expect from a buddy comedy/road-trip movie.

The film centers around Audrey (Ashley Park, Emily in Paris), an Asian American adoptee raised by well-meaning white parents, and Lolo (Sherry Cola, Shortcomings), who becomes Audrey’s best friend in spite of their differences because they’re the only two Asian American girls in their small, lily-white Washington town. An early scene that sets up their relationship finds Young Lolo (Chloe Pun) telling Young Audrey (Isla Rose Hall) not to worry about what other people think of her. Audrey doubles down on being perceived as successful, smart, and competitive, shielding herself from growing up Asian in a white world with trophies and awards. When we jump to the present day, we see an athletic adult Audrey — now a successful lawyer — soundly beating her boss in racquetball.

Meanwhile, Lolo grows into that chaotic, disorganized hot mess of a friend who will feel familiar to many of us, whether because we have a friend just like her or we are the Lolo of our friend group. Where Audrey shies away from conflict and makes her life choices based on career success and fitting in (“And thanks for the Mulan-themed birthday party,” she tells her colleagues with a straight face), Lolo meets conflict head-on, punches it in the face, and flips it off with both hands. Audrey has chosen a safe, traditional career in law, while Lolo, an aspiring artist who makes art as in-your-face and sex-positive as she is, lives in Audrey’s backyard. Somehow, in spite of their differences, their decades-long friendship has sustained and carried them both through the isolation of being “othered” in an otherwise homogeneous town.

Joy Ride movie
Stephanie Hsu and Desmond Chiam in Joy Ride/Lionsgate

Audrey’s job sends her to China to close an important contract; her boss assumes she’s fluent in Chinese because she’s Asian, and she gamely pretends she is because she wants to close this deal and make partner. She invites Lolo along for emotional support — and to help with translating — and plans to connect in Beijing with her college roommate and other best friend, Kat (Stephanie Hsu, Everything Everywhere All at Once), a charismatic and successful Chinese soap opera star. Also along for the ride is Lolo’s cousin, Deadeye, (non-binary standup comedian Sabrina Wu, in an absolutely delightful scene-stealing turn), an awkward, eccentric K-Pop fan whose only friends are online.

As Audrey keeps reminding Lolo, this is a work trip and it’s important to her; Lolo says she
“gets” this, but she really doesn’t because her life is not centered around the same definition of work, success, and happiness by which Audrey has guided her own. When Audrey agrees to meet her client for a business meeting in a nightclub, things go hilariously awry, which leads to the deal being threatened when the client learns Audrey was adopted. Lolo impulsively tries to save the day by telling him Audrey knows her birth mother and is planning to see her while on the trip, something Audrey had not planned to do. This serves as the impetus for the rest of the film, as the friends try to find Audrey’s birth mother, bring her to a party to meet the client, and get the contract signed.

Kat’s down to help with all this as she wants Audrey to land the contract and move to L.A.; she also has her own personal identity crisis going on related to concealing her prolific sexual past from her dashingly handsome fiance and co-star Clarence (Desmond Chiam), who is leaving room for Jesus until they get married. That whole side story gets upended hilariously later in the film, causing me and the audience I saw the film with to double over with laughter.

Joy Ride movie
Joy Ride image via Lionsgate

Along their wacky, wild, unpredictable journey through bustling cities and the countryside, Audrey, Lolo, Kat, and Deadeye learn to see each other through a new lens and to value the ways in which they each move through the world differently. In spite of its often break-neck pacing and brisk 95-minute run time, the film gives us ample time to get to know and care about each of these characters. A good movie starts with a great script, but it’s the simply splendid acting and synergy of the terrific cast interpreting that script and the deft direction by Lim that really wins us over here. We care about these characters and what happens to them, we vicariously enjoy their outrageous madcap adventures and wistfully wish we could have a road trip like this with our own besties to remember when we’re in our rocking-chair years.

Joy Ride has a lot in common with films like Superbad, Pineapple Express, and This is the End — not surprising given that it was produced by Seth Rogen‘s production company, Point Grey Pictures — and it’s pretty awesome to see four Asian-American women playing off the same brand of raunchiness that made those white-dude films so popular, and making it work just as well. Representation matters, indeed.

This is a highly enjoyable road trip comedy with some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments that, at the same time, offers a deeper, poignant theme of self-discovery that’s highly relatable across demographics. And while it’s very funny and sometimes surprising in its upending of what you expect to happen, at its core, this is a film about what happens when you realize the entire story and sense of selfhood upon which you’ve built your life isn’t at all what you thought it was — and what you do when you figure that out. Joy Ride takes us along for the laughs while also giving us things to contemplate later about our own relationships, both with our friends… and ourselves. Bring your own besties, get ready to laugh a lot, and buckle up for a joyous ride.

Grade: A

Joy Ride is now playing in theaters nationwide courtesy of Lionsgate.

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