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

Joy Ride Review – One Hell of Trip that Could Well Be the Comedy Event of the Year

Adele Lim’s hilarious Joy Ride was originally titled The Joy Fuck Club, which is pithy and biting in its own way, but implies a one-dimensionality to the film which it steadfastly avoids. Yes, it is chock full of sex, drugs, hard partying, and general misadventures, but it is also an ode to friendship and a clever investigation of what being Asian in America means.

The film begins with a Chinese American couple moving to White Falls in Washington and having an almost awkward conversation with a white couple who want their adopted Asian daughter to play with their daughter. The kids are Audrey and Lolo, and their dynamic is set up right from the start with Lolo punching the shit out of a racist kid. We follow Audrey and Lolo through primary and then high school with Audrey being a high achiever and Lolo being a rebel who doesn’t give two hoots what people think about her. Flash forward to them both approaching thirty and Audrey (Ashley Park) is an associate at a law firm where she has to smile through constant microaggressions from her odious “ally” boss Frank (Timothy Simmons), and Lolo (Sherry Cola) is a struggling artist who lives in Audrey’s garage and creates sex positive pieces including a Licky Cat – a clever riff on the Lucky Cat seen by Westerners as Asian kitsch.

Audrey is up for a promotion at the firm if she can convince a client Chao (Ronny Chieng) to sign with them. Assuming that because she is Asian Audrey can speak fluent Mandarin Frank sends her to China to seal the deal. Audrey is fluent in Mumford & Sons and The National, but not Mandarin, so she enlists Lolo to be her translator. Lolo brings along her K-Pop and terminally online cousin Deadeye (Sabrina Wu) with the understanding that Deadeye will meet up with her friends once they arrive in Beijing. Thus, begins a comedy that makes Girl’s Trip and Bridesmaids seem like they were made for the Hallmark channel.

Once in China Audrey does her best to keep up with Chao and his associates, drinking to excess and dealing with Lolo’s DGAF attitude. Chao says he can only work with a company that values traditional family – in this case Asian family. Lolo volunteers that Audrey has a strong relationship with her birth mother (in fact they’ve never met) and soon they are on a quest to find a woman, and an identity, Audrey has never sought.

Into the frame comes Kat (Stephanie Hsu), Audrey’s college roommate and “bestie” (the Kat vs. Lolo dynamic in fighting for Audrey is reminiscent of Bridesmaids). Kat is now a successful serial television actress with a fiancé Clarence (Desmond Chiam) who is very deliberately an object for the female gaze (slow motion, lingering camera shots of his exquisite chest) but also a Christian. Kat has a secret raunchy past in America which involves a specific vaginal tattoo and multiple partners that she hasn’t been able to discuss with Clarence – in fact despite their upcoming nuptials whenever they embrace, he reminds her that they need to leave “Space for Jesus.” What Lim and screenwriters Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao are setting up is that the idea of a compliant and polite Asian woman is a construct, and Audrey, Lolo, Kat, and Deadeye shatter it in the most outrageous ways possible, including basically crippling a basketball team with their sexcapades (not Deadeye, they cripple a team member with K-Pop dancing). These are women “behaving badly” and it is delicious.

For all the bawdy comedy and excellent visual gags, including the group posing as K-Pop idols and doing a version of WAP which leads to a reveal that is quite devilish, there is a distinct heart to the film. The film breaks down stereotypes about Asian femininity and the idea that Asian people are a monolith, but also functions as a work about finding yourself through both friendship and calamity.

Like many films of its ilk (films about female friendships) there are ups and downs. Kat and Lolo’s rivalry wears on Audrey. Audrey’s perfectionism and “WASP Asian” wears on Lolo. Eventually the two have a fight where some distinctly unkind words are exchanged with Audrey calling Lolo a “Barnacle with a quirky hobby.” Lolo responds by pointing out that at least she is herself and not smiling constantly through white bullshit. The group splinters, or so it seems (there is an unexpected payoff that is deeply touching).

The chemistry between the cast is stellar. Park, Cola, Wu, and Hsu are a perfect quartet of imperfect beings. As much as we laugh about the group snorting massive amounts of coke to avoid being arrested on a train, and hiding drugs in orifices, as much as there is a hell of a lot of gross-out comedy including copious amounts of vomit, as much as there are sex scenes that rock the Richter scale – all of that is part of building the bond between the group and allowing us to laugh with them as well as at them. Lim’s inclusion of queer characters, Deadeye is non-binary, Lolo is bisexual, is also a rebuke to the idea that Chinese people are inherently conservative.

Lim balances the over-the-top comedy with resonant dramatic moments with ease. Audrey’s understanding of who she is and where she came from is poignant and beautiful (and features an actor that had the crowd in the cinema cheering). Audrey comes to understand that she needs to stop playing the “Good Asian American,” and start doing things for herself. Every opportunity she seized through working harder than other students to prove her worth is not actually where her worth comes from. It comes from simply being and being loved.

Joy Ride is one hell of a trip and one that you will be on board with early on and that rewards more as it progresses. One thing is for sure, the group’s faux K-Pop band ‘Brownie Tuesday’ with its members Sassy, Cutie, Lisa, and Lisa 2 need to drop an album as soon as possible! If nothing else (and there is everything else) that scene alone is worth the price of admission. Joy Ride is the funniest film of 2023 and you’ll want to hang with the gang for as long as you can.

Director: Adele Lim

Cast: Debbie Fan, Kenneth Liu, Stephanie Hsu

Writers: Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, Teresa Hsiao, (based on a story by Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, Teresa Hsiao, and Adele Lim)

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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