Joy Ride review: four friends, lots of raunchy comedy

Left to right: Stephanie Hsu as Kat, Sherry Cola as Lolo, Ashley Park as Audrey and Sabrina Wu as Deadeye in Joy Ride.
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Four very different friends go on a debauchery-filled trip in Joy Ride, directed by Adele Lim – here’s our review.

Crazy Rich Asians writer Adele Lim has created in Joy Ride a comedy about four very different friends going on an unexpected journey of self discovery. It also happens to be an extremely raunchy journey of self discovery.  

Directed by Lim, who also co-wrote the script alongside Teresa Hsiao and Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, the film sees Audrey (Ashley Park), a successful Chinese-American lawyer who was adopted as a baby by a white family, go on a business trip to China with three friends. One is her childhood friend Lolo (Sherry Cola), a loud and charismatic aspiring artist who makes genital-themed art. Also on the trip are Lolo’s cousin Deadeye (Sabrina Wu) and Audrey’s college-friend-turned-actress Kat (Everything Everywhere All At Once’s Stephanie Hsu). 

From the opening scene, where the young Audrey and Lolo are introduced to each other and Lolo punches a racist boy in the face, Joy Ride makes it clear that this is a film about strong women. And these four main characters are. Though each of them are very different personality-wise, they all become extremely likable throughout the course of the film. The leading quartet playing them are all equally charismatic, and portray their flaws and their growing bond well.

The major flaw most of the characters seem to have is an inability to communicate effectively, and the script falls into the trap of causing most of the tension in the movie to come from a lack of communication. It’s frustrating to know that most of the film’s issues would be fine if the characters simply spoke to each other.

What starts out as a business trip becomes a quest to find Audrey’s birth mother, but things don’t go that smoothly. They run into various obstacles, ones that require, well, let’s say ‘unconventional’ methods to overcome, and make pit stops along the way that often end in debauchery. 

At the beginning of the movie Lolo makes a comment about doing her art to break taboos, not for shock value, and it seems like a comment that’s meant to apply also to the film at large. I’m all for that, but Joy Ride doesn’t feel taboo breaking with its crude humour. Call me a prude for thinking this, but just because you can make vagina jokes throughout a movie doesn’t necessarily mean you should. At a certain point it loses effectiveness and becomes repetitive and grating.

It’s a real shame that the comedy in Joy Ride didn’t work for me, as the heart of the story is really lovely. Audrey is a main character who feels stuck between two cultures, and her journey of self discovery is hard-hitting at times. There’s even a particular scene that might get you a bit emotional. That scene also involves a small appearance from Daniel Dae Kim, who’s a very welcome addition and adds a ton of gravitas to his scenes. 

The emotional core of the film really works, but whether the movie as a whole works for you will very much depend on your taste in comedy. In this writer’s opinion, Joy Ride falls flat, becomes repetitive and seems designed for shock value.

Joy Ride is in cinemas on 4th August.

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