Sabrina Wu, Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, and Stephanie Hsu in JOY RIDE.

Ed Araquel/Lionsgate

Review: An unrestrained ‘Joy Ride’ offers a fresh take on the road-trip comedy

Adele Lim’s audacious directorial debut premiered at SXSW.


Adrienne Hunter

Internet Culture

“We wrote the movie we wanted to see growing up,” said screenwriter Teresa Hsiao during the Q&A of the Joy Ride‘s SXSW premiere. Co-written with Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and directed by Adele Lim, Hsiao’s sentiment is apparent in this sincere and unapologetically unrestrained comedy about four Asian-American friends who arrive in Beijing for what starts as a business trip.

The raunchy road-trip comedy is a classic genre. Its reliable formula is well-equipped to make audiences laugh. Joy Ride understands this formula deeply, leading to a riotous and heartfelt journey through Asia that often subverts many of the genre’s typical tropes.

Joy Ride

Release Date: July 7, 2023
Director: Adele Lim
Release: Theatrical
Adele Lim’s audacious directorial debut makes for a chaotically fresh take on a conventional genre.

Central to the film is the friendship between Audrey (Ashley Park) and Lolo (Sherry Cola), a strikingly unlikely duo composed of two childhood best friends that first met due to being the only Asian kids in the very white town of White Hills, Washington. Audrey is a highly ambitious, success-focused lawyer determined to succeed on her business trip in Beijing in the hopes of becoming a partner at her firm. However, never having learned Mandarin as she was adopted by a white family, Audrey brings Lolo—a rebellious and vocally sex-positive artist—to translate during her trip. Insecure about the growing distance in their friendship, Lolo attempts to convince Audrey that the duo seeks to find Audrey’s birth mother while in Beijing.

Accompanying the duo on their trip are Lolo’s socially awkward and K-pop-obsessed cousin Deadeye (Sabrina Wu, an impressive debut performance) and Kat (Stephanie Hsu), Audrey’s once sexually adventurous college roommate who has become a rising Chinese television actress sexlessly engaged to her Jesus-loving co-star. 

In an ensemble of four unlikely friends chalked with conflict, Park and Cola’s chemistry provides a strong anchor for the film as a classic comedy duo archetype. 

Wu and Hsu round out the central ensemble with devilishly rollicking moments. Newcomer Wu, who revealed they filmed 185 takes of their audition tape before sending it in, is a scene-stealer with their captivatingly gawky cadence, frequently balancing hysterical and genuinely tender moments. Meanwhile, Hsu, a recent Oscar nominee, creates some of the film’s most cackle-inducing moments with her dynamic performance of Kat’s splintering self-repression.

From an unpredictably chaotic sex montage to cocaine finding its way into unconventional places, Joy Ride has some outrageously entertaining moments. Yet, what sets Lim’s debut apart from many other raunchy comedies is the emotional beats at the film’s center. Each of the central four characters has a fully realized arc that compliments one another while showcasing the complicated dynamics of self-acceptance and friendship.

The film’s deep understanding of the road trip comedy is bolstered by authentic and genuine moments that ground the film. From the inclusion of Audrey’s racist boss and self-proclaimed ally (Timothy Simons) to the film’s unexpected turn regarding Audrey’s quest to find her birth mother, the film’s comedy is only bolstered by consistent and intimate reflections of Asian-American experiences, ranging from workplace adversity to experiences of diaspora.

Though there are many unexpected and often jaw-dropping moments, the conventional nature of the genre does result in some scenes that do not necessarily meet the rest of the film’s level of freshness. The inevitable friendship fallout and recovery sequence that comes with the genre, for example, was a fairly by-the-numbers inclusion that lacks the comedic and emotional weight so prevalent throughout the rest of the film.

Joy Ride is an unprecedented execution of a conventional formula, however, it does so in an often-subversive, uproarious, and sentimental manner that sets it apart from so many other raunchy comedies. It’s a film that wholeheartedly embraces the messy path to self-love, one that might include experiencing multiple meanings of the Eiffel Tower.

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