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Joy Ride (Film Review)

3 min read

Stephanie Hsu as Kat, Sabrina Wu as Deadeye, Ashley Park as Audrey, and Sherry Cola as Lolo in Joy Ride. Photo Credit: Ed Araquel

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.
Adele Lim, hot off the heels of co-scribing Crazy Rich Asians, makes her directorial debut with Joy Ride: a raunchy studio that throws it back to the schlocky, B-movie formula of the early noughties. The genre has been sorely missed and what a welcomed return this is.

 

Audrey (Ashley Park) and Lolo (Sherry Cola) are childhood besties, bonded by the fact that they were the only Asian girls in their town. As they grew up though, their friendship unwavering, the former went down a road of success pursuing law while the latter is still figuring things out – a provocateur whose phallic art is still finding an audience. When Audrey is sent to Beijing to close a large-sum business deal, she brings Lolo along as her accompanying translator. They're also joined by Lolo's cousin Deadeye (Sabrina Wu) and Audrey's college roomie Kat (Stephanie Hsu) and, of course, the trip quickly descends into unruly mayhem and debauchery.

Lim employs all the usual tropes in the raunch-com playbook here but the execution is so deft and gleeful that it elevates a pretty shopworn formula into a wild, laugh-a-minute joy from beginning to end. After all, if it ain't broke then don't fix it. Even though it may be a boiling pot of other ideas and films (The Hangover, Bridesmaids, The Farewell), if it's this funny then who cares? The writing is razor-sharp and the gags flow thick and fast; each section of the escalating road-trip is marked by a hilarious set-piece that continues to outdo the last from a raucous party with NBA stars to an impromptu K-Pop musical number in the middle of the film. It's incredibly playful and impressive and the comedic timing of the game cast really makes the jokes sizzle.

 

It eventually makes way for the expected saccharine-sweet sentimentality in the third act but, again, it's elevated above the sum of its parts thanks to thoughtful character work and expert observations on identity, culture, and assimilation. Where Joy Ride is really surprising though is in its subplot involving Audrey's reluctant search for her birth mother and the revelations this brings about in the finale. It's a superbly handled arc and easily when the film's emotional backbone is at its most moving, breaking down the usual cinematic conventions of found-family and adoption. It doesn't go the easy route and is all the more poignant for it.

 

The progression of the raunchy studio comedy has been interesting to witness; in many ways, this genre felt like the bread-and-butter of the B movie in the early-mid 2000s cultivating classics like The Hangover and Bridesmaids. But they've all but dissipated in the years since as studios approach sexual comedy with more trepidation. No Hard Feelings released just the other month and proved there's still an appetite for this humour and Joy Ride feels like the kind of bonafide success that show's the adult comedy can still truly impress and thrive. With diverse, sex-positive messaging, genuine laughs and an impressively resonant thematic core, this film may very well be the crowd-pleaser hit of the Summer.

Joy Ride releases in UK cinemas on August 4th