Outrageous comedy Joy Ride continues streak of winning films with Asian-led casts
Movies with primarily Asian casts have seen a big uptick in recent years, spanning multiple genres, including heartfelt drama (The Farewell), big-budget romance (Crazy Rich Asians), a Marvel blockbuster (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings), and a Best Picture winner (Everything Everywhere All at Once). Now joining that list in a new category is the outrageous comedy Joy Ride.
Audrey (Ashley Park) and Lolo (Sherry Cola) are longtime best friends, growing up as the only Asian kids in their small hometown in Washington. Now an attorney, Ashley is asked to go to China to complete a big deal for her firm, with Lolo accompanying her as a translator because Ashley, who is adopted, doesn’t speak fluent Mandarin.
A school acquaintance, Deadeye (Sabrina Wu), happens to be going to China at the same time, and gloms on to them once they arrive. Soon joined by Audrey’s college best friend, Kat (Stephanie Hsu), who is now a famous actress in China, the group goes through a series of misadventures, first as part of Ashley’s business trip, and then in an attempt to track down her birth mother.
Directed by Crazy Rich Asians co-writer Adele Lim in her feature debut, and co-written by Lim, Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, and Teresa Hsiao, the film tries to walk a fine line between being a sweet story about friendship and delivering over-the-top, Hangover-style set pieces. The filmmakers do a solid job of establishing the bonds between Ashley & Lolo and Ashley & Kat, as well the exasperation over the antics of Deadeye and enmity between Lolo and Kat.
When the film goes for the gusto, it is laugh-out-loud hilarious, with a sexcapade sequence topping the list. While the high moments of the film work great, Lim seems to be in a hurry to get to the next big scene, as she and her co-writers fast-forward through a lot of narrative steps. The 95-minute film is the rare example of one that could have been longer to fill in the gaps of the story.
While the shocking scenes are the ones people will remember, the film actually works best when its humor is understated, such as Audrey’s boss (Timothy Simons) doing his best not to appear racist, a Chinese grandmother throwing shade and love in equal measures at the group, or Deadeye doing any number of off-kilter things on the periphery of scenes focused elsewhere.
Park, getting her biggest role to date outside of her supporting role in the Netflix show Emily in Paris, makes for a great lead, playing Audrey as buttoned-down but not too tight. Hsu, coming off an Oscar nomination for Everything…, turns in another memorable performance here. Cola is a lot of fun in what could be a breakout role for her, and Wu, a novice actor, impresses mightily as the possibly non-binary Deadeye.
Joy Ride is not as consistently funny as it could have been, but its showcase scenes are worth the price of admission, as is the opportunity to see four under-utilized Asian actors strut their stuff. The comedy genre is always in need of new blood, and this film makes a good case for more entries like it.
Joy Ride opens in theaters on July 7.