Taking a page or two from Girls Trip and The Hangover, writer-producer Adele Lim, who was a co-writer on the script for Crazy Rich Asians, makes her feature film directing debut with Joy Ride, an amusing and charming comedic sensation that will certainly rely on word-of-mouth. The film is about four Asian-American women who leave the US for a business trip to the Chinese homeland, and the film has a raunchy mix of female empowerment and charm. Prepare for hard belly laughs that consist of some sex humor, self-help lessons, sentimentality, a hilarious musical number, and, of course, a film that pays tribute to the importance of coming to terms with your roots and the power of friendship.
The cast, which consists of Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu, and Sabrina Wu, delivers sharp onscreen chemistry together, and their comedic delivery and reactions to the gags hold high energy. With no humor focusing on China’s COVID lockdown or severely strict protocols, or any humor satirizing the Chinese or U.S. international relations or diplomacy, there seems to be an edgier potential to be found with the clever build-up, but the material hits too many familiar beats from many other comedies for it to become a gamechanger.
Courtesy Lionsgate Films
The narrative is about Audrey (Park), who was adopted out of China as a young girl by a white American married couple and grew up in a very white suburb just outside Seattle. She is now a very successful lawyer for a top-notch law firm in Seattle; she has a pseudo-progressive boss (Timothy Simons) who uses a lot of microaggressions and says a lot of racist things that he remains aloof from. Audrey’s boss ends up persuading her to take a business trip to Beijing to close a business deal with some clients that run companies in China. Audrey ends up taking Lolo (Sherry Cola), her childhood best friend, who lives in a petite shack in her backyard, where she creates arts and crafts of sexual objects that are designed to make people feel less comfortable about sex. Audrey and Lolo had a very strong friendship; they were the only Asian girls in their community, and they grew up together having to stand up against racist kids in the playground and other forms of bullying in the classroom that mocked Audrey for being an adoptee from China.
What is supposed to be a simple trip ends up taking some unexpected turns for Audrey and Lolo, especially when their non-binary mutual friend, or rather acquaintance, Deadeye (Sabrina), ends up joining along due to their lives being lived mostly through a screen with virtual reality communities in China. Upon arrival in Beijing, Audrey tracks down her old college roommate and close friend, Kat (Hsu), who is now a lead female actor in a very lavish epic and is engaged to her co-star Clarence (Desmond Chiam), in which Kat and Clarence have both agreed to not have sex until they are married in respect to Clarence’s Christian faith. He remains unaware that Kat holds a lot of psychical needs and has a past of being promiscuous, as she keeps her past relationships hidden from him and goes along with the idea that she is a virgin waiting for marriage.
Courtesy Lions Gate
In hopes of sealing the deal during the first night, Audrey and her company met up with her client (Ronnie Chieng), who isn’t happy with how little interest she has shown about her Chinese heritage or where her roots are; she doesn’t even bring up her parents around him, and he calls her out on it. Dola tells him in Mandarin that Audrey would love for him to meet her mother in order to seal the deal and get the contract. This leads to the four attempting to track down Audrey’s birth mother before the next meetup, at which Audrey’s livelihood is at stake.
Meanwhile, they find their journey faced with even more obstacles after being blackmailed by an American drug dealer who is hiding a substantial number of illegal drugs in their train compartment. In a very hilarious gag, the pack takes drugs and hides them in very uncomfortable areas, which ends up getting them kicked off the train. Luckily, they end up being picked up by a traveling basketball team, which leads them to a hotel where the players end up getting severely injured in the process of giving pleasure with a hilarious cross-cutting montage. It’s a cleverly staged montage that never feels tasteless or vulgar.
In a bizarre subplot, Joy Ride ends up sharing the same plot of Return to Seoul, which actually leads Audrey to Seoul in search of mother after she learns her mother now resides there and holds roots there. Like Return to Seoul, Joy Ride is about self-discovery and about the Asian experience of being born in the East and being adopted and raised in the West and reconnecting with your old roots. While its quite a raucous experience, the bond between the four main characters is where it resonates the most. If you are looking for some deep belly laughs this summer season, Joy Ride is that movie. It also reassures once more that the “R Rated” studio comedy is back in style.
Joy Ride Opens in theaters Friday, July 7th.