Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | July 6th, 2023
Joy Ride (Adele Lim, 2023) 3 out of 4 stars.
A rowdy, horny journey of self-discovery, cultural pride, and above all, friendship, Joy Ride takes the viewer out for a good time and rarely deviates from that mission. Four friends—Asian and Asian American—give it their all as they plow their way through China, then to Korea, and beyond, breaking hearts, other body parts and more in their quest for their own true selves. Though it has its antecedents, including films like Bridesmaids, Girls Trip, The Hangover, Joy Ride strikes a unique path forward towards unbridled delirium.
The quartet in question consists of Audrey (Ashley Park, Netflix’s Emily in Paris series), Lolo (Sherry Cola, Shortcomings), Kat (Stephanie Hsu, Everything Everywhere All at Once) and Deadeye (Sabrina Wu). This last one is an unwanted addition, at least at first, though they eventually make their presence indispensable. For much of the story, however, there is a push and pull between Lolo and Kat to see who is truly Audrey’s bestie (Deadeye is Lolo’s cousin). The former has known Audrey since childhood, while Kat only met her in college. Ultimately, what matters is far more than any of that, though it will take the full arc of the narrative for all to realize this simple truth.
We start with a prologue where the kid versions of Audrey and Lolo meet cute (and uproariously violent, as the unrestrained Lolo punches out a racist white boy), then flash forward to the present. When the adopted (by white parents) Audrey, now a lawyer, is given the opportunity to go to China on a business trip, she jumps at the chance to connect with her original culture, about which she knows virtually nothing (with poor Mandarin skills, to boot). It kind of makes sense for the artsy (and, to many, unmoored) Lolo to join her, since she was raised by her Chinese birth parents and speaks the language. Kind of. She’s really there for the dramatic tension and comic shenanigans.
Deadeye, Lolo’s unwanted (at first), nonbinary relative, tags along, much to Audrey’s chagrin. But it’s Lolo who’s put out when Audrey meets up with university pal Kay, now a successful actress back in the homeland. And so rivalry for Audrey’s affections begins. As does the search for men with whom to get it on.
What thereafter transpires is pure mayhem, filled with raunch, sex and adventure. The movie only falters towards its conclusion, where the push to resolve all wrongs and slights proves stronger than the earlier delight in nihilism. The pat resolution between our characters—following a nonsensical trip home from Asia that could not possibly happen given what we have learned about some missing passports—is a real letdown, where the commercial exigencies of some studio executive, somewhere, demanding revisions, prove glaring. Until then, however, this Joy Ride offers nothing but wild cinematic glee. Party on.