‘Joy Ride’ Review: Adele Lim’s directorial debut is an R-rated riot
SXSW: Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu, Ashley Park and Sabrina Wu star in this groundbreaking Asian-American-led comedy.
Following the well-deserved success of Everything Everywhere All at Once, it’s a literal delight to see the dynamic of diverse performances continue with Crazy Rich Asians co-author Adele Lim, Joy Ride . This particular Asian-American directed film makes history with an all-female cast including a non-binary actress.
At the SXSW world premiere, Lim joked that they only needed an ally in the form of a rich white guy to produce their film (thanks, Seth Rogen). With his signature deep chuckle, Rogen lovingly stepped back, not attempting to steal the spotlight from the cast as they basked in their bright moment.
A prime example of the importance of representation on screen, “Joy Ride” proves that Asian-American comedians can be just as funny, raunchy and successful as their white male counterparts.
The film’s opening scene is a throwback to 1993, when best friends Lolo (Sherry Cola) and Audrey (Ashley Park) originally met in a small, mostly white town aptly named White Hills. The two immediately find each other at a playground as they are the only two Chinese-American children. The fact that Audrey is adopted by white parents isn’t a problem for spunky, outspoken Lolo – who slaps a young boy in the face at the first mention of a racist comment.
As the girls grow up together, they hold on to their similarities despite being completely opposite personalities. Lolo is a distinctly sex-positive artist with a stronger connection to her heritage than Audrey. Lolo uses her art to subvert traditional gender roles and expectations of women in her culture and spark conversations about sex. A low-key and successful attorney, Audrey keeps up with her mostly white male colleagues, who are usually named Michael or Kevin.
Screenwriters Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao quickly establish the comedic tone of racist comments present throughout the film and show no mercy as these characters are condemned and labeled on a daily basis, even when others are not intentionally meant to be hurtful. They also successfully highlight the barriers that Audrey and Lolo try to overcome as women in their careers.
While Audrey appreciates that her co-workers threw her a birthday party (despite it being Mulan-themed), she aspires to achieve higher goals by cementing a deal with a Chinese client to become a partner in her to become a company. Alongside Lolo, who works as her translator, she books a flight to Beijing and decides to kill two birds with one stone by also looking for her birth mother. Joining the friends are Audrey’s college bestie Kat (Stephanie Hsu) and Lolo’s lonely cousin Deadeye (charmingly played by non-binary stand-up comedian Sabrina Wu).
Each character has their unique quirks and contributions to their experience as Asian Americans. While shows like “Fresh Off the Boat” and “Awkwafina is Nora from Queens” explore the Asian-American experience in the US, “Joy Ride” stands out because its characters travel to China and eventually South Korea. This cultural immersion is challenging for Audrey because she feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere. She’s too Asian for America and too white for Asia. This fight is one of the many important and relatable experiences featured in the film. Each writer and actor brought aspects of their own personal experiences into the story and used improvisation several times throughout the filming, enhancing the emotion and the rich narrative to make it that much more authentic.
Apart from the thematic elements around identity and friendship, Joy Ride delivers sizzling comedy by spanning sex, drugs, cultural immersion and bridging the gap between young generations and their elders. From drug smugglers to threesomes with members of the China Basketball Association to vagina tattoos, the crew encounters everything while traveling. The jokes avoid slapstick and instead clever attacks on societal stigma and cultural representation in general. They are evenly distributed among the cast with insults, awkward personality quirks, and derogatory comments made toward unsuspecting or self-involved acquaintances. The script is brimming with comedy and social commentary because there is so much these talented women want and deserve to say. Since movies like this aren’t readily available, trying to get across points becomes urgent at times, and there are few moments when audiences can fully marinate in the impact.
The film’s approach to sex is unique compared to other racy comedies as there is no end goal to engage in the plot. Instead, sex is seen as natural, fun, and a way for the characters to express themselves freely, whether through art, open dialogue, with a lover, or with themselves. Kat’s character is a successful actress who lives with her Christian Chinese co-star Clarence (Desmond Chiam), who believes she is a virgin. She struggles to balance her high libido with his need for abstinence, and her promiscuity becomes a joke in the friends group, though they support her sexual nature. The men in the film take a backseat to the plot but are still comedic players when introduced into a scene. “Joy Ride” passes the Bechdel test by showing a woman more concerned with chasing her professional dreams, heritage and friendships than chasing a man.
Lim’s directorial style is fairly traditional in structure and form, with some highly creative character sequences, illustrative interludes, and a hilarious K-pop music video scene. The writing is impressively complex for a comedy, drawing on more universal themes and broader experiences. For all these reasons, “Joy Ride” can easily go longer than its 95 minute run time. With so much to say and an extremely talented cast embodying endearing and multidimensional characters, a sequel is a no-brainer. Joy Ride is certainly the gold standard for progressive, raunchy comedy and the need to tell more diverse stories on screen.
“Joy Ride” premiered at the SXSW Film Festival 2023. Lionsgate opens the film in theaters on Friday July 7th.
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https://www.indiewire.com/2023/03/joy-ride-review-adele-lim-1234820085/ ‘Joy Ride’ Review: Adele Lim’s directorial debut is an R-rated riot