In the span of a few weeks’ time, two films that belong to the same niche genre have come out swinging for the fences, making the statement that the genre still has enough in the gas tank to say something that hasn’t already been said before. That genre is the raunchy R-rated comedy that gets its laughs from putting its characters in unimaginable situations and cranking up the absurdity up way past 10. I cannot remember the last time the same year put out back-to-back comedies with both leaving a stitch in the side of my midsection. The newest, Joy Ride from director Adele Lim in her debut finds a sweet spot between the side-splitting humor and the immeasurable heart that her characters experience along the way.
Joy Ride follows Audrey Sullivan (Ashley Park) and her inseparable best friend Lolo Chen (Sherry Cola). Audrey comes from China in which her birth mother put her up for adoption where Joe (David Denman) and Mary (Annie Mumolo) happily took Audrey in. Once Lolo and Audrey became best friends, their bond became part of their identities – Audrey excelled at everything she touched, becoming an associate at a highly recognized law firm whereas Lolo is an aspiring artist.
The story picks up steam when Audrey is tasked to go to China and close a big deal for her firm. In doing so, she’ll become partner and move to LA. Lolo accompanies Audrey as a translator for the language barrier – Lolo comes from a full Chinese family with her eccentric cousin Deadeye (Sabrina Wu) tagging along. Not knowing where she comes from, Lolo and Deadeye along with Kat (Stephanie Hsu), Audrey’s best friend from college and popular Chinese actress push Audrey to look up her birth mother in an attempt to reconnect and find out more of her lost heritage and culture that has been missed out on for her entire life.
Co-written by Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao based on a story conceived by the pair plus Adele Lim, Joy Ride is at its strongest when fully engaging in Asian representation. The situations may not be groundbreaking or something that hasn’t been done before but the underlying messages about inclusion and feelings of belonging go beyond one particular race, gender or culture. Not knowing who you are, where you come from or knowing where you belong can leave someone feeling empty inside and Adele Lim hits the nail right on the head.
For 95 minutes, these 4 characters embark on a journey of discovery through the Chinese countryside, finding themselves in one outrageous situation after another. At the start of their journey after Kat parts with her celibate husband Clarence (Desmond Chiam), Lolo makes the proclamation that Audrey and her family are close to Chao (Ronny Chieng), the businessman Audrey is working with. This puts Audrey in an uncomfortable situation to go look for her birth mother, which the other 3 gladly accept to join. But it’s the sequence after this one that starts the chain reaction of what kind of shenanigans we can expect to get roped into.
Before the train sequence, Joy Ride was already full of raunchy dialogue, overly sexualized tension and suggestive themes that are only whispered between two people and each joke lands the punchline every single time. There won’t be a moment throughout Adele Lim’s film where tears from laughter will not be present. But once on the train, Joy Ride commits to a cocaine induced nightmarish situation that no one wants to ever be in but if someone else is, the laughs only get louder, and the breathing gets significantly shorter.
From the train scene on, Adele Lim further proves her grip on the R-Rated comedy is as steady as can be. And there is plenty of it to be found throughout to keep you engaged with these characters. But as the journey begins to fully take shape, the emotional depth that the writing team add makes Joy Ride more than a one trick pony. It’s not just Audrey that experiences a self-actualized life change, all 4 friends learn something about themselves that changes their outlook on themselves and their friendship as a whole. Cocaine and sexually suggestive acts can only get you so far, but it’s the cultural representation that takes over immediately and becomes the strongest link in the Joy Ride chain.
A comedy like Joy Ride will only benefit from being seen in a theater packed full of people. Its second benefit comes from the ensemble cast who all fully commit to the wild ride their characters venture on. Each actress is given their opportunity to take center stage and have their moment that will leave a lasting impression after the credits roll. Their chemistry is undeniable throughout but it’s the sincere moments that Joy Ride will join the ranks of the classics in this genre. It may not be on the same level as some of the greats but there is instant rewatchability that will get better with age.
Adele Lim takes the R-rated comedy and adds some much-needed representational flavor to it. No matter the culturally specific jokes that’s made that only other Asian people will understand, we all can picture our own respective cultures and pick out commonalities between the lines. There is a mixture of tones that make up Joy Ride’s DNA but the tones when shifted between one another keep the overall atmosphere an engaging one. From its explicit opening with a quick throat punch to a drug gag that pinpoints the disconnect between cultures down to the sincere tender moments, Joy Ride is the must watch comedy of the year.
Screenplay By: Cherry Chevapravatdumrong & Teresa Hsiao
Story By: Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, Teresa Hsiao & Adele Lim
Directed By: Adele Lim
Music By: Nathan Matthew David
Cinematography: Paul Yee
Starring: Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu, Sabrina Wu, Ronny Chieng, Meredith Hagner, David Denman, Annie Mumolo, Daniel Dae Kim
Edited By: Nena Erb
Release Date: July 7, 2023
Running Time: 1 Hour 35 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%