Name me a single raunchy R-rated comedy prior to 2022, starring Asian leads. Okay, you probably said the Harold and Kumar trilogy. But what about Asian women? That becomes a bit more challenging. It’s hard to find many Apatow-level comedies outside of Bridesmaids and Girls Trip even led by female ensembles or directed by female filmmakers, let alone a predominantly Asian one. But we now finally have one in Joy Ride.
But rest assured, the diversity narrative is only one half of why this movie succeeds. The rest is simply that it’s a well done, insanely funny movie, and one of the best comedies to come out in years.
Just as much of a headline as the rareness of a female POC driven R-rated comedy might be, is the idea of an original R-rated comedy existing in the marketplace today. I can’t remember the last time an R-rated comedy made waves — probably Girls Trip and Good Boys — but with most studios reliant on IP for success, original R-rated comedies don’t get made very often. This summer’s No Hard Feelings might be one of the few. And now, Joy Ride, opening up the door again for unexpected comedy hits to be made. This is a really funny movie that pushes the envelope of raunch and horniness in ways I haven’t seen in a long time. And the movie works so well because of it.
All this to say, I’m insanely grateful this movie exists on a multitude of levels.
The movie is about two lifelong friends, Audrey (Ashley Park) and Lolo (Sherry Cola), who grew up the only Asian kids in their small White town. Audrey, who was adopted from China by a White couple, has become a successful lawyer, and is asked to close a deal with a potential client in China, and she brings along Lolo, born to Chinese immigrants, to accompany her as her translator. And eventually they bring along Lolo’s cousin, the socially awkward Dead Eye (Sabrina Wu in an endearing star-making performance), and rendezvous with Audrey’s best friend from college, successful actress Kat (Stephanie Hsu). Upon deciding they would use the trip as an opportunity for Audrey to find her birth mother and discover her roots, the gang gets thrust into a whirlwind adventure of chaos, drugs, sex, and K-Pop.
Now it’s easy for a movie like this to simply coast off vulgarity and low brow humor to sell itself. And the movie isn’t above doing that, for better or worse. But the most surprising thing for me about Joy Ride was the poignant messages and heart regarding the themes of identity. For a film filled with sex and drug jokes, its greatest strength is how it has a way of wearing a tender heart on its sleeve, while also speaking to the reality of Asian Americans. And that’s because the script is quite smart, courtesy of writers Cherry Chevapravatdumrong (Family Guy), Teresa Hsiao (Family Guy), and Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians and Raya and the Last Dragon), who also directs. A movie like this didn’t need to be as relatable as it was, but thanks to their clever and sweet screenplay, I found myself sympathizing a lot with the film’s messages about being an American-raised Asian.
As someone who spent his elementary through high school years surrounded predominantly by Caucasians, it’s easy to lose touch with your Asian culture, when you’re pressured into wanting to fit into the culture of everyone else around you. You’re “too Asian” for your colleagues, but “not Asian enough” for family or friends with deeper connections to the Asian community. This is something that I think was explored really well in recent years with the advent of shows like American Born Chinese, and Fresh Off the Boat, as well as movies like Crazy Rich Asians. And Joy Ride does a really great job of exploring that theme through Park’s Audrey. There’s a lot of heart and relatability to this character’s journey, and the result actually caused me to shed a tear or two towards the final act of the movie.
This is Lim’s directorial debut, and it’s actually a strong, impressive showing. She is able to give us the Hangover-esque comedy, highlighting the strength of her ensemble and their various energies, but also isn’t afraid to do things like parody K-Pop music videos before giving us a full-frontal crotch shot. Lim’s comedic timing is both fearless, and perfectly executed. And again, she knows how to play off the tropes of a good comedic ensemble, giving us all the perfect archetypes of a straight man, an oddball, an uptight princess, and a slacker, without ever sacrificing or over-emphasizing the comedic strengths of each character.
It helps that the cast of characters is portrayed by actors with such terrific chemistry and bravery. Wu in particular is given a lot of opportunities to shine, delivering the same awkward energy as Zach Galifianakis from The Hangover, while actually being a lot more endearing than his character, Alan. But Park and Cola are absolutely the emotional anchors of this movie, giving a realistic and winning portrayal of a lifelong friendship on the rocks. Cola’s no-holds-barred, uncensored energy, and her fearlessness pairs incredibly nicely with Park’s more subdued, slightly more mousy perfectionist, but also Hsu’s entitled, self-righteous, faux-Jesus freak character as well. The script gives this veritable dream team of comedic energy a lot of opportunities to really shine, whether they have to pretend their high on a coke-addled train ride, impersonate K-Pop super stars, engage in insane sexual encounters with an entire basketball team, or get into a game of boozy slapping with the always welcome Ronny Chieng. Each actress plays their part beautifully and the results are hysterical.
There’s also really empowering feminist tones throughout the movie, thanks to the cast and the writing/direction; particularly in its handling of sex and friendship. But the best thing of all about its execution is how it’s not overt. None of the reasons why the movie is empowering is ever uttered into your face by the characters. The characters are simply just strong female or non-binary protagonists who don’t give a damn what people think, and have the same urges and needs any normal human being would. In other words, the “Seth Rogen horny stoner” character isn’t just limited to male slackers. Female and non-binary characters can be just as horny, high, crass, and hilarious, acting in total defiance to the expectations of audiences when it comes to female and Asian characters. And we love them even more for it!
The only complaint I may have about the script is that it almost veers too much into the envelope pushing territory. And your enjoyment of it may depend on that. It tries a bit too hard to go for the Superbad-level gross out, and has moments where it gets a little derivative of Bridesmaids when it doesn’t need to. Thankfully it avoids falling into that trap, sidestepping some of the cliché story beats of Bridesmaids for ones that are more important. And in an industry where Asian female screenwriters need to yell to be heard, I understand the need to go loud to be able to stand out. The deck was always stacked against Hsiao, Lim, and Chevapravatdumrong, and in order for a film like this to get made, you have to aim for the same lows as the Apatows or Rogens (of which he and partner Evan Goldberg are producers of this) of the world. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. And it ends up giving us the strongest gross-out comedy to hit theaters in years.
All in all, Joy Ride is a funny, heartwarming surprise! What’s really crazy about it is, even better than the comedy, is the heart and sweet messages about self discovery and friendship! I didn’t think I’d cry but there’s a scene at the end that broke me. That doesn’t mean it won’t have you in stitches from every hilarious moment with this amazing cast of brilliant stars! The chemistry from this ensemble is so potent, and it’s going to be a star making debut for this cast on par with how The Hangover was a career maker for Bradley Cooper, Galifianakis, and the gang! Insane, hilarious, and full of heart! This is a ride I hope everyone takes!
Overall Score (on an entertainment level): B+
Overall Score (on a representation level): A