REVIEW: Joy Ride (2023, dir. Adele Lim)

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 95 mins

UK Distributor: Lionsgate

WHO’S IN JOY RIDE?

Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu, Sabrina Wu, Ronny Chieng, Lori Tan Chinn, David Denman, Annie Mumolo, Meredith Hagner, Desmond Chiam, Alexander Hodge, Chris Pang, Rohan Arora, Victor Lau, Baron Davis

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Adele Lim (director, producer), Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao (writers, producers), Josh Fagen, Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen and James Weaver (producers), Nathan Matthew David (composer), Paul Yee (cinematographer), Nena Erb (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A group of friends find themselves on a raunchy journey across China…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON JOY RIDE?

In a lot of ways, Joy Ride owes a good chunk of its existence to 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians. Not only is that film’s co-writer, Adele Lim, also the director and producer on this film, but the critical and box office success of that romantic-comedy really has paved the way for plenty more mainstream movies with predominantly Asian casts that are given free reign to get as wild and crazy as their white-centric counterparts. Without Crazy Rich Asians, it’s likely that a film as raunchy and free-spirited as Joy Ride would still be a pipe dream today.

Luckily, though, it was made for audiences hungry for their next wild cinema outing, and while it perhaps isn’t quite as consistently a slam-dunk success as other raunchy comedies it’s attempting to emulate, Joy Ride has some pretty amusing moments that are accompanied by some interesting commentary on racial and sexual identity.

The film follows primarily follows two young Asian women and best friends Audrey (Ashley Park), a hotshot lawyer at an all-white male firm, and Lolo (Sherry Cola), an artist who creates body-positive pieces. When Audrey, who was adopted at birth and raised by white parents (David Denman and Annie Mumolo), has to travel to China to secure a business deal that would land her a coveted promotion, Lolo accompanies her along with Lolo’s K-pop obsessed cousin Deadeye (Sabrina Wu), and once there they meet up with Ashley’s college roommate Kat (Stephanie Hsu), who’s now an actor on a popular local soap opera. Soon, the four of them set off on a journey across Asia to locate Audrey’s birth mother, which inevitably does not go the way they expect, with just some of their situations involving awkward encounters with drug dealers, painful hookups with basketball players, and impersonating K-pop stars.

Given that it’s also produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg through their Point Grey production company, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Joy Ride gets more than a bit raunchy every now and then. What’s surprising, though, is how fresh it feels from this particular perspective, for it is genuinely liberating to see women on-screen – and Asian women, at that – embrace their sexual desires in ways that aren’t necessarily fetishised or warped to please a more patriarchal gaze. Here, the four leads have clear lusts and needs which are never used against them; they’re just horny women, just as much as guys get horny, and Lim – along with writers Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao – treats their sexual appetite with an open matter-of-factness, as well as a fierce sense of humour, that just about avoids blatant objectification.

There’s also a good chunk of the movie that dedicates itself to exploring racial identity, something that could have easily come off as insensitive in the wrong hands, but Lim and her writers once again offer a concentrated approach that at the very least generates some interesting commentary. Ashley Park’s Audrey, despite being born in China, was raised in a loving, but very much white, household and environment, so for her to return to her birth country and find that her adopted whiteness has alienated her from her own cultural roots – to where she can’t even have conversations in either Mandarin or Cantonese without Lola, who actually does come from a Chinese-American family, translating for her – makes for a surprisingly compelling arc. The film additionally doesn’t shy away from the character’s own pre-conceived prejudices about certain figures in Asian society, adding even more fuel to this intriguing hook that, once again, the filmmakers handle with a steady enough balance of amusing comedy and poignant drama.

Admittedly, that balance does start to tipple as the movie approaches its third act, which more often than not follows a typical structure one often finds in a comedy movie such as this. It’s not that it executes such a formula badly, but more so the fact that, after a lot of boundary-pushing and often hilarious gags accompanying the film’s thoughtful themes, you can practically feel the script deflating into something more conventional than it otherwise sets out to be. By the time it begins to wrap everything up, it feels like watching the end of a sitcom episode where dangling plot points are quickly resolved with the status quo resolved (appropriately, co-writer Cherry Chevapravatdumrong has also written several episodes of Family Guy, which is where this feeling perhaps comes from).

Even then, the film is held together by lively and charming turns by its four leads, among them Stephanie Hsu who, after her Oscar-nominated turn in Everything Everywhere All At Once, is fast becoming an actor who can easily carry both drama and comedy with equal dedication and pitch-perfect delivery. Hsu, along with Park, Sherry Cola and Sabrina Wu, are plenty of fun together, and are exceptionally game for scenes that involve projective vomiting, mass drug consumption, painful threesomes, public nudity (involving some very intricate tattoo placements) and using massage guns in extremely painful areas for the opposite sex. Not all of the comedy earns laugh-out-loud reactions, but the dedication of the cast is enough to at least appreciate the way it’s all being delivered.

Funny, heartfelt, and just a little bit crazy in spots, Joy Ride doesn’t entirely work, but when it does you will feel glad to have been along for the crazy ride.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Joy Ride is a largely amusing raunchy comedy that, in addition to some very funny set-pieces and gags, offers a liberating perspective on female sexuality as well as intriguing commentary on racial identity, and is held together by four dedicated lead turns, even when the film starts to fall apart in the third act.

Joy Ride is showing in cinemas from Friday 4th August 2023

Click here to find showtimes near you!

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