‘Joy Ride’ review: Raunchy comedy has heart and deeper meaning while still supplying laughs
From left to right; Sabrina Wu, Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu, and Ashley Park

On the surface, it would be easy to relegate the new film Joy Ride to a paint-by-numbers raunchy comedy of a group of friends behaving badly for an hour and a half. Yet, the movie manages to add themes of identity, sisterhood, and socio-political commentary that not only enhance the laughs experienced throughout but add an emotional punch that comedies of its kind can usually lack.

Directed by Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians; Raya the Last Dragon) Joy Ride tells the story of how childhood best friends Audrey and Lolo, accompanied by Audrey’s former roommate Kat and Lolo’s cousin Deadeye, set out on a journey across China to find Audrey’s birth mother. Audrey is a straight-laced overachiever who is focused on making partner at the law firm she works at, while Lolo is a starving-artist type who is all about pushing the boundaries of respectability, politics, and sex. The audience is treated to a high variety of hijinks and hilarious unfortunate events, but at the heart of it all is Audrey, Lolo, Kat, and Deadeye trying to discover what truly makes them happy, how they fit into society, and the strength of their varying interpersonal bonds.

It needs to be noted, that although comedies about a group of friends on a raunchy road trip are not a new concept, the cast that was chosen to portray this particular story is definitely a newer phenomenon on the big screen. Well-known movies like American Pie, Road Trip, Knocked Up, and The Hangover have similar plots, but often focus on male and/or white main characters. The four main characters in Joy Ride are Asian women with different personalities, wants, and needs. The film doesn’t just place characters of color in the roles and proceed to ignore their race. Rather, it leans into their identities through a hilarious exploration of cultural and social clashes.

Asian women have for far too long been stereotyped in oversimplified roles that erase their individuality in Hollywood movies. As writer India Roby once put it, “Often pop culture has portrayed Asian women as incompetent and fragile foreigners, exotic femme fatales, and subservient mail-order wives.” Joy Ride takes on these stereotypes in an in-your-face kind of way. Each character has their own hangups and issues to deal with while adding complexity to who they are.

Audrey has to explore why she’s leaned into being an overachiever as a means to prove her white colleagues “wrong” about her. Lolo wants to constantly push against the suppressive boundaries of women’s autonomy but also needs to work out if it makes her too reckless at times. Kat is a celebrity but feels boxed in by the image that has been assigned to her. Deadeye has passions but doesn’t function the way society tells them they should. Much of this is explored, and somehow director Lim—in her directing debut—manages to keep the laughs coming in the mix of some heavier topics.

Another nice tidbit is that the film pushes against the Hollywood narrative that Asian men can’t be sex symbols. This may seem shallow, but in a society where the mainstream media’s picture of the “ideal” man is often portrayed as white, this is an important detail.  There’s plenty of slow-motion camera treatment throughout the movie to prove that narrative is false. Although subtle, it does make an impact in challenging who is usually allowed to play certain types of roles.

Now, with a lot going on in the film, there are moments when it feels like certain issues are resolved far too quickly, or aren’t actually resolved at all. That’s easily forgiven because the bigger plot lines—particularly Audrey’s quest for identity and understanding of who she is—pays off in an emotionally impactful way that will likely leave most viewers satisfied.

The cast all come together seamlessly in their roles. Ashley Park as Audrey showcases vulnerability and drive that will draw audiences in. Although her character is a bit more subdued than the others, the film never falls into the trap of making her seem dull in comparison. Sherry Cola as Lolo, and Sabrina Wu as Deadeye have great comedic timing, adding to the zaniest of the story. Oscar-nominated actress Stephanie Hsu (Everything Everywhere All At Once) is always a pleasure to watch on screen, and her plot delivers some of the best laughs in the movie.

Joy Ride is a fun adult comedy that makes itself memorable through interesting characters and poignant themes. Audiences will laugh at much of the silly hijinks, but will no doubt be touched by the deeper message found in the midst of fun sex jokes and edgy one-liners.

Joy Ride opens in theaters July 7, 2023.

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Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.